Diversity celebration features Martin Luther King III

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:50 a.m. CST, Wednesday, January 16, 2013

COLUMBIA — A son of Martin Luther King Jr. and an artistic performance that will focus on the civil rights leader highlight the 20th annual Columbia Values Diversity Celebration on Thursday.

The celebration, which begins at 7 a.m. in the Holiday Inn Select Expo Center and includes breakfast, has sold out, with more than 1,100 people expected.


The 20th annual Columbia Values Diversity Celebration will be rebroadcast on the Columbia Channel — Mediacom, Channel 80; Charter Communications, Channel 2; and CenturyLink, Channel 601 — at the following times:

  •  6 and 10 a.m. and 6 and 10 p.m. on Jan. 21, 25, 26 and 27.
  •  6 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Jan. 22, 23 and 24.

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Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of Martin Luther King Jr. will be the keynote speaker; his sister Bernice King was the speaker for the 10th anniversary diversity celebration.

King III, 55, lives in Atlanta, where he continues his father's work promoting peace, social justice and human rights.

"Throughout his life, Martin Luther King, III has worked with individuals deeply committed to the struggle for human rights and a nonviolent society," according to his website. "Martin's dedication to creating and implementing strategic nonviolent action to rid the world of social, political, and economic injustice has propelled him to the forefront as one of the nation's most ardent advocates for the poor, the oppressed, and the disillusioned."

The diversity celebration usually doesn't include a keynote speaker, but the planning committee viewed Martin Luther King III as ideal for this year's theme of “The Dream Revisited,” said Negar Rezvani, a city human rights specialist who helped organize the celebration.

The Rev. Clyde Ruffin, who served as artistic director from 1998 to 2003, accepted the invitation from organizers to take on the responsibility for this year's celebration.

Ruffin, chair of the MU Theater Department and senior pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church, said viewers can expect a "spirit of celebration" for the musical performance titled “In His Words” that will honor King specifically.

The format will be a combination of music and narrative, a cantata, based on excerpts of King’s well-known speeches paired with iconic songs from the civil rights movement such as "Free at Last" by J.W. Work and the traditional spiritual "We Shall Not be Moved," Ruffin said. The performance will include a 40-voice community choir, musicians and special guest artist The Next Step.

This year also marks the 16th anniversary for the Columbia Values Diversity Awards. The awards recognize citizens who make significant contributions to community diversity and cultural understanding among other things. Two awards will be given; one for an individual and/or family and one for an organization and/or group. 

Keeping with tradition, the Columbia Values Diversity Celebration student writings booklet will be distributed to attendees at the event and published on the celebration website. Each year students in grades four through 12 participate by submitting original essays and poetry to an independent selection committee. (Read excerpts from some of the submissions here.)

The Martin Luther King Jr. Candlelight March and Memorial Celebration begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Douglass High School followed by the memorial celebration at 7 p.m. in Second Baptist Church, 407 E. Broadway. The event is free and open to the public. 

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