Martin Luther King III speaks at Columbia Values Diversity Celebration

Thursday, January 17, 2013 | 1:51 p.m. CST; updated 4:34 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 17, 2013
Martin Luther King III was the keynote speaker at the 20th annual Columbia Values Diversity celebration on Thursday. The event also featured a musical performance and award presentation.

COLUMBIA — Iconic images from the civil rights era filled the screens at the Holiday Inn Convention Center on Thursday morning.

The films were part of the 20th annual Columbia Values Diversity Celebration. The images, along with the words of keynote speaker Martin Luther King III, were part of the program that focused on the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and their relevance in modern-day America.

"We’ve got to find a way to create more opportunity," King said. "That’s what my dad's mission was about. How do we make America the best America it can become?"

Tyree Byndom and Job Point were honored with the 16th annual Columbia Values Diversity Awards. Mayor Bob McDavid presented the awards, which are given to organizations, families and individual people who embody the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and promote diversity in Columbia.

Job Point Youth Core Student Representative Demetria Stephens came to the event with the organization.

"This is something I normally do anyway, it’s just important to participate," Stephens said. "It's not just about the event, but the history of the event. I'm really honored to be here to hear Dr. King’s son speak."

Jacqua Williams directed the musical portion of the performance, called "In His Words," and said the group of about 35 performers began practicing in mid-December. Williams said the performance was completely original and created by the Rev. Clyde Ruffin of Second Missionary Baptist Church. The performance included singing, spoken-word narration and clapping. Students from Lange Middle School joined the performers on stage near the end of the piece to sing.

Williams remembers the struggle of the civil rights movement, and began to cry when speaking about how she lived with the fear that something might happen to her parents. Being involved in the performance carried special meaning for Williams.

"The experience brought my life full circle," she said.

During his keynote speech, King spoke of modern-day issues within the framework of his father’s beliefs. King said his father's views on violence and war were ahead of his time. Many who gathered at the event were eager to hear King recall stories of his father.

"He realized that there was a connection between peace work when the Vietnam War was going on, and racism," Columbia Interfaith Council Member John Prenger said. "He was told not to make that connection, but he made it anyway. He’s one of my heroes, truly."

Earlier in the week, King traveled to Washington, D.C., to commemorate his father’s birthday.

"Had my father lived he would have been 84 years old on Tuesday," King said. "And as I think about this birthday observance, this is … an incredible year of anniversaries."

King said 2013 will bring about the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 45th anniversary of the sanitation strike in Memphis, where his father was killed, the 45th anniversary of the Poor People’s campaign, the 50th anniversary of the letter writing from the Birmingham jail and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where King Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech.

King said it was unique that the presidential inauguration fell on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. President Barack Obama will not only use a bible from President Abraham Lincoln during the inauguration ceremony, but also one of King Jr.’s traveling bibles.

"My dad left us a blueprint, and the world needs now more than ever to embrace the blueprint," King III said. "If we learn how to live as brothers and sisters, how to share resources, then maybe we could resolve conflict and certainly make the world better for all of our children."

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