FOUNTAIN PARK – The bells have sounded, beginning the official statewide Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations.
The Martin Luther King holiday kick-off celebration was held on Saturday, Jan. 11, at Harris-Stowe State University, with speeches, honorees and musical performances.
Coming up on the actual holiday – Monday, Jan. 20 – is the big event here: the annual MLK Freedom March, with an interfaith service afterward.
An opening ceremony will take place at the Old Courthouse downtown at 9:30 a.m. Mayor Lyda Krewson and other elected officials will participate along with dignitaries and representatives of social service agencies. Musicians and other artists will perform.
At 10:30 a.m., marchers will set off from Broadway and Market Street. The route will take participants west on Market to Tucker Boulevard; north to Martin Luther King Drive; and west to Compton Avenue.
The Freedom March will end at the Leonard Baptist Church, 1100 N. Compton. There, at 12:30, an interfaith service will be held, with the theme of “The Man, The Leader, The Preacher.” The service will feature community leaders and performances, including a special posthumous tribute honoring the late local civil rights icon Norman R. Seay, who died Sept. 17.
The Rev. Derrick Perkins attends these annual celebrations of King as a great orator and nonviolent civil rights icon; but three years ago Perkins started holding his own observance.
It’s held in Fountain Park, where the St. Louis region’s only MLK statue stands. The statue is just across the street from Perkins’ sanctuary, Centennial Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 Fountain Ave., where he has been pastor since 2007.
The celebration will begin at 10 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 18, with a Peace Walk. A Resource Fair will be held at the church, after the march, followed by a panel discussion at 1:30 p.m.
This year’s theme is “Keep Moving Forward!: Resourcing the Community.”
“We have to continue his dream,” said Pat Pendleton, the church’s administrator. “We have done a lot, but things still aren’t equal.”
Perkins said he and other neighborhood stakeholders started celebrating the King holiday there because of the statue’s presence, and to have a more residential observance.
“Most often his speeches took place in public spaces, but he also did speeches about matters that were directly related to the livelihood of residents,” Perkins explained. He added that the statue was a reminder of the work that needed to be done and that hands need to be lent outside of church doors.
The statue was created by sculptor Rudolph Torrini, a Washington University graduate, and installed in 1978.
Since then the statue has attracted some “but not enough” visitors to come and observe King’s bronze likeness, Perkins said.
In July 2018 the statue was uninstalled and taken to be refurbished, repaired and polished. The city of St. Louis paid for the work, through the leveraging of then-18th Ward Alderman Terry Kennedy.
In September of that year, a re-dedication ceremony was held.
The re-dedication was led by those instrumental in getting the statue refurbished: Kennedy, Perkins, residents of the Fountain Park and Lewis Place neighborhoods and members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.-Epsilon Lambda Chapter.
King was, and Perkins is, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha.
Rather than the monument, humanity-laden ideals such as brotherhood that King practiced and preached make up Perkins’ focal point.
“The focus isn’t on the statue; it’s on what he stood for, like a loving community,” Perkins explained.
Longtime Fountain Park resident and neighborhood organizer Katrude Palmer is delighted to live across the street from the statue.
“It’s great and very enlightening to our area. We take pride it because of what he did for civil rights,” said Palmer, who participates in the march.
The Peace March begins at the statue and proceeds north to Enright Avenue; then east to N. Taylor Avenue, routing north to Lewis Place and back west to the park and church.
At the church, there will vendors offering various resources, including health care direction, Medicaid expansion signing opportunities and voter registration.
Backpacks and other school supplies will be given away.
“We know kids’ backpacks don’t always make it [through] the year,” Perkins said.
The panel discussion will feature Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner, Marty Casey, Tory Russell and Darryl Gray. Moderating will be Leonard McKinnis.
The panelists will discuss and answer the question: “How can we move the community forward?”
For Perkins, it means being involved in the community and helping wherever one can.
“He was about God, faith, justice and equality, and he wanted the community to be better,” Perkins said of King. “So much so, that he gave his life.”
Some other MLK events:
Friday, Jan. 17
- The Art Museum is hosting its annual Freedom Celebration: The Art of Freedom, 7-8:30 p.m. The event is free, but advance tickets are recommended. The keynote speaker is the Smithsonian Institution’s Tuliza Fleming, who will discuss “The Intersection between Art and Social Justice at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.” Musical performances will be offered by Dello Thedford and the Gospel Symphonic Choir and Ronald Ollie, collector and vocalist.
Saturday, Jan. 18
- The Missouri History Museum will host activities beginning at 9:30 a.m. The Collective STL offers an all-levels yoga practice set to live gospel music by area choirs. Families can also join Youth Activism and Engagement workshops, take part in movement workshops with Mama Lisa, and create peace-inspired art. Plus, meet the St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature and enjoy stories and book giveaways while supplies last.
Sunday, Jan. 19
- From 2 to 3:30 p.m., the history museum hosts the Rev. Traci Blackmon, Anthony Witherspoon and the Rev. Kevin Anthony as they reflect on King’s sermons.
- A Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday Supper spotlighting Vietnam veterans is being held at the Omega Center, 3900 Goodfellow Blvd., from 1:30 to 5:00 p.m. The supper is free and open to the public. It’s hosted by the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Gamma Omega Chapter, Ivy Alliance Foundation and the men of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
Monday, Jan. 20
- Christ Church Cathedral, 1210 Locust St., will commemorate King from 2 to 4 p.m. The event will include a historical reenactment, musical selections and readings from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Books related to his life and the civil rights movement will be available for purchase.
- Washington University is sponsoring a lecture, “Raise the Conscience of the Nation: Promoting Health Equity in a Polarized Era,” Eric P. Newman Center, 320 S. Euclid Ave. The speaker will be Adia Harvey Wingfield, professor of Arts & Sciences and Associate Dean for Faculty Development at WU. Her research examines how and why racial and gender inequality persist in professional occupations.
- The University of Missouri-St. Louis is joining the national MLK Day of Service, inviting the public to participate in such neighborhood aid projects as painting, landscaping and remodeling houses for low-income residents. Hours are 7:45 a.m.-1 p.m. Meet at the student center, 17 Arnold B Grobman Dr.
- A Mid-County MLK Celebration will feature a parade and a program about King’s legacy. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-1st District, and Adrian Bracy, CEO of the YMCA of St. Louis, will participate; also invited are other civic leaders including St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell. The parade will step off at 11 a.m. from Wellston’s city hall, 1414 Evergreen Ave. After the parade, a program will begin at 12:30 p.m. at New Life Empowerment Church, 6401 Stratford Ave.
- The history museum reprises its programs from Saturday.