By Leah Williams

The annual MLK Unity Day Celebration took place this past Monday at Savage Arena on the campus of the University of Toledo. Local government officials, community leaders, clergy, students, and families attended the gathering honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year’s theme was “Dream, Believe, Do.”

In addition to video remarks given by Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, UT President Dr. Sharon L. Gaber, and Ninth District U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur, the arts took center stage as university and local talented artists filled the program.

Toledo City Council Member Dr. Cecilia Adams and UT Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Willie McKether.

The band INTUITION featuring Lady K and UT Blue and Gold Pep Band provided pre-event entertainment before emcee and 13ABC news anchor Alexis Means called the celebration to order. After the presentation of colors by the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, Camille Wilburn of Toledo School for the Arts [TSA] sang the national anthem and Toledo Opera Soprano Alicia Russell sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Later in the program TSA student and vocalist Alana Hicks sang “Anything Worth Holding on To,” and Ms. Russell took to the stage again to sing a moving rendition of the negro spiritual “Give Me Jesus” for which she received a standing ovation.

UT Dancing Rockette M’yan Hudson performs alongside her teammates and the UT Blue and Gold Pep Band.

Dance pieces included selections from the university’s Sistahs in Spirit Praise Dancers and TRIBE African Dance Team whose performance included Ghanaian movements and music. Additionally, TSA students Nia Fleming, Dylan Smith, Bailey Waldon, and Charli Waldon performed a commanding modern dance.

In her original spoken word piece “The Dream That Could,” UT student Laycee Horn spoke of Dr. King’s relentless pursuit of his dream and encouraged the audience to do the same.

“He had one dream, and his dream grew from Christ-giving seed. And in 2020, we are still fighting for his dream,” she said. “They tried to make him think his dream was hopeless and that we would never see equality, but like a true Alpha man he didn’t give up.”

TSA students perform a commanding modern dance during the celebration.

In addition to the arts performances, UT and the City of Toledo handed out MLK scholarships and awards respectively to area high and college students. Dr. Willie McKether, UT Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion awarded scholarships to Emir Moore, Juwaan McGee, Mariah Hutchins, Kourtnee Dallas-Robinson, Tayana White, and Josephine Aduba. Mayor Kapszukiewicz congratulated local high students who won the Mayor’s MLK Essay contest. First place went to Maumee Valley student Zane Reeves.
Before the program closed, a video produced and edited by UT Trustee Will Lucas played on the arena jumbotron. Many were visibly moved by the montage of Dr. King’s speeches and rose to their feet at its conclusion. In one segment, Dr. King spoke about his definition of real love.

“For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go,” he said. “I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love. I’m talking about a strong, demanding love.”

At the conclusion of the celebration, the audience was invited to join program participants and community leaders in packing winter clothing bags for children in need. The service project was one of many organized in the community to honor MLK Day as a day of service. Both Dr. Gaber and Mayor Kapszukiewicz in their joint video address encouraged the community to engage in service to one another that empowers individuals, breaks barriers, and unites people together in the spirit of Dr. King’s life and lasting legacy.