On Monday, Jan. 21, the Historic Ashland Armory held its 25th annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, boasting an attendance of over 300.
The program began with a slideshow on the history of Civil Rights, followed by dance and musical performances by Scenic Middle School in Central Point, Aisha Wand’s Danceworks, the Rogue Valley Gospel Group and the Rogue Valley Peace Choir. Jerome Preston Bates, Christina Robinson, and other members of the community contributed speeches and poetry, and finally, President Barack Obama made an appearance in his inaugural speech. Leading the ceremony was D.L. Richardson, SOU’s own communication professor. The ceremony was streamed live to OSF’s Carpenter Hall for audience members who weren’t able to be at the Armory due to maximum capacity.
With all the open-minded events that happen in Ashland throughout the year, it can be difficult to judge whether the issues discussed at the Armory are present in Ashland.
“I haven’t seen any issues,” said Jerome Preston Bates, an accomplished actor with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. “Everything that I have experienced [in Ashland] has been love, peace, and harmony. There’s a lot of love in this community.”
With the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, many would be inclined to take Bates’ observation and apply it to the entire country. Now that a black man holds the highest office in the land, some commentators have even suggested that the United States has become a “post-racial” society. Claudia Alick, curator and producer of the OSF’s community productions, doesn’t think so.
“There is no place in the U.S. you haven’t seen discrimination,” Alick said, adding she has experienced said discrimination firsthand. “People of color know we have to be better just to get what folks get normally.”
Alick was raised by parents who had to deal with racism on a day-to-day basis; as her mother was a participant in the Civil Rights movement.
“It gave me a great skill set to become a leader.”
Alick made it clear that events like the MLK ceremony not only give recognition to the sacrifices made to get us where we are today as a country, but also try to remind us that each day we have to make the effort to follow this example.
“We cannot change the past, but we can make a better place for our children in the future,” added Bates.
According to Alick’s news release for the event, some of the inspiration for this year’s celebration comes from this quote: “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, keep moving forward.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.