BY: JELANI GRANT
The Black Business and Professional Association held their 19th annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. at the McVety Conference Centre. Hosted by Kerry Lee Crawford, the celebration lifted people out of their seats with each inspiring speech and uplifting performance. Musical entertainment included routines from the Children and Youth Dance Theatre, the Crawford Jazz Ensemble, and singer Michelle Adams, with a special performance by urban contemporary gospel artist Anthony Brown.
This year’s theme was ‘Own Your Dream’, illustrated by everyone on the stage, including a young man named Keon Flash aka Little MLK. He delivered a speech to guests, describing the impact Dr. King has made in his life. The youth confidently informed the audience about how Dr. King’s legacy taught him that he can be a change maker and because of the work done during the Civil Rights Movement, he now has many opportunities.
Crawford also told the crowd they should consider the impact Dr. King’s legacy personally had on everyone’s life and how his story should inspire everyone who knows it. “With challenge comes change,” Crawford told the crowd. “Challenge yourself and the people around you.”
Dignitaries in attendance included Toronto Chief of Police Mark Saunders, York Region Deputy Chief of Police Andre Crawford, Minister of Education Mitzi hunter, and Toronto Mayor John Tory. Mayor Tory presented Christian and BBPA President Nadine Spencer with an official proclamation by the City of Toronto, recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The mayor also mentioned the newly approved 22-point Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism, which recommends changes to issues such as community center funding, health services, and shelters while considering the impact policies have upon the black community. The next step of the action plan is confirmation of the budget, as this is the first anti-black action implemented in Toronto history. “I believe this plan will help everyone achieve their dreams,” he said. While on stage, Mayor Tory told guests, “He told us we can all fight hatred and discrimination, we can all love, we can all serve so that kids can dream big.”
Oakwood University Vice President of Spiritual Life and Mission Dr. David Richardson traveled from Alabama to be the keynote speaker for this year’s celebration. Dr. Richardson began by discussing the United States Department of Interior’s list of endangered animals and plants, classified as such because the ability they have to survive is in jeopardy. He says the number one reason for this is “human activity is why some of these animals’ lives are in jeopardy…there are some communities that are in danger.”
He suggested that if the USDI can put in place policies and restrictions to protect these endangered animals and plants, that something could also be done for endangered people as well. “The Department of Interior had to come up with certain laws and measures in order to protect the birds, the animals, and the plants to make sure that they could survive. And if we would do that for birds, animals, and plants, then surely we should do that for those human groups that are in danger,” he shouted over applause.
His speech conveyed that through adversity, black people have managed to create community and now are able to achieve any dream they strive for.
Executive Producer of the 19-year old celebration Pauline Christian was given a warm introduction to the stage by her granddaughter. During her address to attendees, Christian reminded guests the reason everyone comes together every year is to give and love each other, in order to develop. “I believe in ownership. Ownership allows you to provide opportunities for others to learn through your gifts, be it financial gifts or whatever resources. The people who can, should stretch their hands out and give back,” Christian said.
A key example of Dr. King owning his dream is the Letter From Birmingham, written by the civil rights icon after he was arrested for ignoring an injunction against all protests during the Spring of 1963. The letter defended the non-violent resistance strategy while highlighting the many injustices that were occurring during that time. Instead of backing down to threats, Dr. King led around 1,000 protestors into the Birmingham Business District. He and Reverand Ralph B. Abernathy were arrested, but from his cell, Dr. King would write the letter which still resonates to this day. “Our purpose when practicing civil disobedience is to call attention to the injustice or to an unjust law which we seek to change,” he wrote.