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MLK Event: A Great Leader of the Past, Honored by Leaders of the Future

On Saturday, February 8th, RICJ’s Youth Facilitators hosted a dinner discussion honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event coincided with a new visual exhibit in our building—organized by the Center for Reconciliation—entitled “Unfinished Business: The Long Civil Rights Movement,” an ideal backdrop for a series of youth-led conversations about the lessons of Dr. King’s writings and oratory.

A group of RICJ staff and board, Youth Programs alumni, Youth Facilitators, and community members gathered in the exhibition hall beneath the Cathedral of St. John in Providence, viewed the surrounding exhibit, and enjoyed delicious pasta and salad prepared by the Amos House culinary training program. Settling in with our food around a large table, we began to talk. In the weeks leading up to Saturday evening’s event, RICJ’s Youth Action Council had devoted meeting time to selecting and reflecting upon their favorite MLK texts; one by one, during dinner, four youth leaders introduced their passages and led the group in discussion about the deeper meaning and modern resonance of Dr. King’s words.

Chelcie guided us through “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” pushing us to think critically about King’s iconic statement, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and his reframing of the old maxim, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Ayo took us to the end of King’s life, to his last public address, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” asking us to respond to his brilliant rhetorical use of the First Amendment in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis. Michelle pointed us towards a speech of a more global scope, “Beyond Vietnam,” and asked us to consider the crucial choice that King put forward in that address: “nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation.” And finally, Tiffany brought us back to where we began, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and invited us to share our views on one of King’s essential mantras: “Society must protect the robbed, and punish the robber.”

Saturday’s was a brief and humble exchange, relative to the great, yearslong movements so vividly showcased on the exhibit panels around our table. If there was a primary takeaway from the discussion, it was that Dr. King’s work continues. However, it was also exactly the kind of experience RICJ strives to create: a quiet moment to reflect, learn from our neighbors, honor past champions of justice, and empower those of the future. This was an evening of both commemoration and introspection, but also a call to action. Chelcie, Ayo, Michelle, and Tiffany helped us to look back, and then within, to remind us all of how and why we must look forward.

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