The work is not done, say those celebrating King at Detroit event
Detroit – On Monday, Martin Luther King’s federal holiday, many are reflecting on the civil rights icon’s legacy and how the country has changed since his assassination more than 50 years ago.
But during the Let Freedom Ring event at the Fox Theater, honorees, elected officials, community leaders and others chanted in a constant refrain: The work is not done yet.
“Let the vibrations of Dr. Martin Luther King continues to pierce our hearts and souls so we can continue to take the actions needed to serve our people,” said Shamayim “Mama Shu” Harris, a Highland Park attorney who received the Social Justice Award at the ceremony.
Building on King’s efforts, the central themes of the Let Freedom Ring were hosted by Rainbow PUSH Coalition founder Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.
Harris and five other figures in the region were honored for their work, which event coordinators said “shed light on humanity and changed the life of Dr. King explained”.
The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is an international human and civil rights organization founded in 1996 by two groups founded by Jackson. It seeks to empower people through grassroots advocacy and beyond.
In comments Jackson noted that following months of inactivity due to battles with Parkinson’s and COVID-19, he — a close associate of King’s — touched on his decades-long struggle for civil rights.
Jackson said he’s “still fighting the battle,” fueled by some of the most pressing issues Americans face today. Below: voting.
“We must fight for every American’s right to vote this year,” Jackson said.
Between archival footage from King and Jackson, speakers weaved their example into calls to action in 2023.
US Rep. Debbie Dingell drew passionate applause as she furiously denounced extremism, discrimination and numbers that are fueling division.
Referring to a quote from King about the antidote to hate, the Ann Arbor Democrat said, “Love will prevail. Justice will prevail. Equality will prevail. Democracy will triumph.”
US Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, recalled taking inspiration from King’s words and believes he would welcome tackling issues like school closures and water closures.
“This is the injustice against which Dr. King would get up today,” she told the crowd.
Garlin Gilchrist II, Lt. gov. of Michigan, described King as a leader driven by the urgency to reject the status quo and said modern aspirants can apply similar pressures when faced with issues like climate change.
“Environmental injustice is an injustice for which we cannot be patient,” he said.
Among the recipients were Rabbi Daniel Syme, emeritus director of Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills; Bishop Charles Ellis III, senior pastor of Greater Grace Temple in Detroit; Rev. JoAnn Watson, associate pastor of West Side Unity Church, former member of the Detroit City Council and executive director of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP; University of Michigan runs back Blake Corum; and Kem, a producer and R&B singer-songwriter with local roots.
Harris, President of the Highland Park School Board and founder of the city’s Avalon Village, received the Humanitarian Award.
She, too, credited King as an inspiration, citing his “determination and empathy and the confidence to keep it moving and just forget the naysayers and just move on.”
Kem received the Keep Hope Alive Award for his dedication to raising awareness of homelessness.
“An unlikely member of that tense community, he wrote ‘It’s a Matter of Time,’ contrasting the homeless mission on Mack and Third to Front Street. He’s been feeding the homeless and raising funds for this community,” Jackson said in a recent statement. “We felt it was a matter of time to honor him. We are so glad that Kem found his way home. He touched so many and we love him very much.”
In his Acceptable Speech, Kem said he was initially surprised to learn from a staff member that he would be receiving the award. The singer argued that there was a need to help the homeless.
“We’re supposed to do that,” he said.
Past recipients of the Let Freedom Ring Award have included Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Wayne County Community College District Chancellor Curtis Ivery, singer Aretha Franklin, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, and Detroit News Editor and Publisher Jonathan Wolman.
Monday’s event was a blessing for attendees like Andrea Reed, a Detroit native who runs a nonprofit organization.
“It gives me the driving power to give back and continue to change the city for the better,” she said.