Hundreds of smiling faces filled the main conference room at the Hilton Vancouver Washington on Monday morning, there to celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Between guest speakers and a musical performance from Take 6, the crowd was endlessly entertained. Monday marked what would have been King’s 94th birthday and 40 years since Martin Luther King Jr. Day first became a federal holiday in 1983.
After thanks from Deena Pierott, executive director of iUrban Teen and founder of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration, Pastor Joyce Smith took the stage and led the crowd in a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
“That’s the foundation of what Dr. Martin Luther King stood for — loving one another, being concerned for one another,” Smith said after the song. “No dream is too small or too large. Because we know that after all is said and done you will, hallelujah, prevail.”
This year marked the 13th annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Breakfast Celebration. The program consisted of a variety of guest speakers including Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle and 3rd Congressional District Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania.
“One of the many life lessons that Dr. Martin Luther King taught us is that the time is always right to do what is right,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “As we celebrate his life and legacy today, we also remind ourselves that work is ongoing. It takes work to fulfill this dream. Let’s continue to lend a hand to our friends, our neighbors, to build stronger communities and always stand up to inequality and injustice with the fierce urgency of now.”
Between every speaker, cheers and applause rippled through the crowd, alongside many standing ovations.
Keynote speaker the Rev. JW Matthew Hennessee preached a message of hope. He spoke about divisions throughout the country and the need for our communities to support one another. Hennessee asked the audience to reflect on King’s teachings, with an emphasis on nonviolent social change.
“All of us in this room are leaders. Every one of us — it’s not about your position. It’s not about your title. It’s about the person and the character that you are,” Hennessee said to the crowd. “It’s very important that we remember that we need to tell our truth and reality of who we are and what we are and what we are called to do.”
One community member received a special award for his commitment to equity and uplifting marginalized voices. Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Snell was awarded the Compass Award during the iUrban Teen event, presented by Charlene Williams, deputy superintendent for Evergreen Public Schools.
The money from ticket sales and donations during the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration goes to serve youth in the community. The funds will go directly toward scholarships for youth through iUrban Teen, working to bring STEM and arts education to underrepresented youth.
A few months ago Elias Taylor of Portland worked as a project engineering intern at Cascade Energy, an opportunity he received through iUrban Teen. Taylor spoke about his experience as a young Black man in the sciences at the breakfast.
“I was the only Black graduate from my major (engineering) in my school. And while I faced challenges and adversities that my peers didn’t, I was given privileges that were not granted to those who came before me,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t too long ago when I wouldn’t have been let into my school let alone graduated. Many trailblazers have paved the way for me to be where I am today.”
Throughout the event, there was an emphasis on the next generation and the need to support youth, especially youth of color, in accessing their dreams.
A musical performance by Grammy Award-winning a cappella group Take 6 closed out the program.
For more information about iUrban Teen, visit iurbanteen.org.