On Monday in Elyria, more than 100 people honored a historic man as the country paused to watch a historic moment for another man.
The fact that the 27th annual Elyria Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service fell on the same day President Barack Obama was sworn into office for his second term was not lost on the multitude that assembled in the Performing Arts Center of Elyria High School.
“What can be a better tribute to the ties that bind us all than for our president elect to take the oath of office at the same time we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?” said Mayor Holly Brinda.
Brinda, who met Obama when he visited Elyria in 2012, said the president has a tough job ahead of him, but he has strong shoulders and is standing on the shoulders of King.
In a quiet nod to the civil rights icon, Obama used King’s Bible during the public swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
The parallels between the two men were abundant at the event in Elyria.
Brinda said Elyrians can keep the movement of equality that King started and Obama aims to finish by reaching out to others in a spirit of help.
“We come close each time we reach out to each other,” she said.
Brinda said partnerships are the reason why Elyria succeeded in providing summer camps for 450 children in 2012 and is set to offer camp opportunities to more than 800 youths this summer, why two streets were cleaned last summer and three more will be overwhelmed with volunteers this summer, and why a plan to have two community gardens worked so well in 2012 that it will grow to eight community gardens this year.
“In this community, all you need to help is an open heart and a willingness to serve,” Brinda said.
Elyria High Principal Tom Jama said he believes both men would be proud of how the community responded to the problem of girls fighting in both a vicious and escalating manner. Jama was the one who sounded the alarm the last school year about the problem in the school, and the result was a number of community members stepped forward to serve as mentors, talk with students and hold community dialogue sessions in hopes of addressing the problem.
“When a community is faced with a serious problem, especially when it involves our most precious asset — our children — we showed that as a community we can work together for success,” he said. “If Dr. King was here today, he would be proud of how we came together. Now, fights are down considerably and Elyria High has the highest academic scores in its history.”
While the annual celebration is often the time King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech is either recited or played for the audience, this year a different, less known but equally inspirational speech was played. “Birth of a New Nation,” which spoke of a man’s quest for freedom, seemed fitting for the event both because of the celebration in Elyria and the one in Washington, D.C.
“There seems to be a throbbing desire, there seems to be an internal desire for freedom within the soul of every man,” King said in April 1957 at a Montgomery, Ala., church. “And it’s there — it might not break forth in the beginning, but eventually it breaks out. Men realize that freedom is something basic, and to rob a man of his freedom is to take from him the essential basis of his manhood.”
Elyria’s event ended with the announcement of the winners of this year’s essay and poetry contest as well as community service awards.
Students Demetri Burton of Oakwood Elementary, Hannah Ellis and Kiara Heffner of Eastern Heights Middle School, and Wendy Black of Elyria High were this year’s poetry winners. DeAnna MacKeigan of Eastern Heights won for her essay on how she can make a difference in society for the betterment of all Americans.
The United Way of Greater Lorain County, Family Promise of Lorain County, the Elyria Public Library System and Mercy Health Ministry’s Parish Nursing Program were the recipients of community awards.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.