January 17, 2011 — Charlottesville native Vivian Berkley has been attending the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration at Mount Zion First African Baptist Church each year since she moved back to the area seven years ago.
However, she almost missed the 27th annual event Sunday night. Berkley, a member at Mount Zion and graduate of Charlottesville's historic segregated Jackson P. Burley High School, was out of town earlier in the day with the church's dance ministry, Yadah Rakad.
"But when I got back I thought, 'Let me go to this program, because this is something that everyone should take the time to attend,'" said Berkley, 72. "And I hope to be here again next year, because these programs keep Dr. King's legacy alive."
The packed celebration, cosponsored by the University of Virginia, drew residents of the Charlottesville and University communities and served as the first of more than 30 University-sponsored events this month commemorating the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Holly Edwards, a former Charlottesville city councilor and new clinical instructor in the School of Nursing, filled in as the featured speaker, after the scheduled keynoter, former Maryland Congressman Kweisi Mfume, was unable to attend. Edwards said the evening's theme, "Why We Can't Wait," is as applicable today as it ever was.
"It's easy to be deceived that we have lots of time," she said. "And that's exactly why we can't wait: achievement gap, low graduation rate, high incarceration rate, health disparities, and locally an African-American infant mortality rate. We can't wait."
Edwards shared a series of proverbs that applied to the theme, dealing with the need for strong families, education and community action that focuses on "how great our community can become if we can put aside personalities and politics and focus on issues, taking action and actually solving problems."
Edwards also praised the late Dorothy J. Palmer, the 2011 recipient of the Charlottesville Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration Award.
"She said, 'My advice for the youth of the day is to pursue their education and put more of the love of God in their hearts,'" Edwards said of Parker. "There is nothing more liberating than knowledge."
The celebration also featured the Community Mass Choir, a group made up of area residents and choir members from several local houses of worship that forms each year to perform at the event.
"I think it's very important that we do this," Telly Tucker, the music director at Mount Zion, said Sunday during the celebration. "I think what this choir represents is exactly what Dr. King would have wanted."
George Cohen, a U.Va. law professor and baritone in the choir at the Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, agreed.
"It's about the idea of people from different races and backgrounds getting together and focusing on the things that we have in common, and the desire to promote unity and justice," said Cohen, who has participated the last four years. "I think there's no better way to do that than through music. That really is the universal language and it really does help people feel and express the greatest hopes and desires for a better world."
For a full list of the University's King remembrance activities, visit the "Community MLK Celebration" website.