By Coshandra Dillard
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Interfaith Community Celebration is set to begin at 9 a.m. Monday at the downtown square in Tyler.
The annual event, in its 31st year, celebrates the life and legacy of King. Established by Rev. Jerome Milton, the event has been coordinated by Tyler Together Race Relations Forum for the last six years.
Following a short program on the square, participants will march from South Broadway Avenue to the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception at the intersection of Broadway and Front Street. Participants are encouraged to bring banners. Another program, with keynote speaker Chef Kevin Belton, begins at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral.
This year’s theme is “The Time is Always Ripe to Do What is Right,” a quote from King’s famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail. He pinned the letter as a response to a group of white Alabama clergymen who criticized his tactics during civil rights protests.
“King was responding to people who were supporters who said things were moving too fast; that we as a people needed to wait,” said Jeff Williams chairman of Tyler Together Race Relations Forum.
The message for Monday’s event is about taking a stand now, not later, for justice and equality.
“Wrong can never overcome right as long as people don’t remain silent,” Williams said. “There is no wrong time to do the right thing. It’s always the right time.”
The celebration typically brings out about 300 people to the square, and hundreds more pack the Cathedral for a program, Williams said.
In addition to a speaker, local students will recite excerpts from King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. Tyler Together also will recognize students who participated in an essay and art contest. Awards, donated by local businesses, will be given to the students.
In addition, the group will honor Dr. Jeanette Calhoun, PhD, executive director of East Texas Cares Resource Center, for her work in the community.
Celebrity chef, TV personality and author Kevin Belton highlights the Martin Luther King Jr celebration. The New Orleans native will speak about King’s impact on his life, and share his inspirational story of how he became a chef.
“I noticed and appreciated how Martin Luther King, no matter how people got mad at him, he always kept calm,” Belton said.
Standing at six-foot-nine and weighing 400 pounds, Belton said he’d always faced some kind of prejudice. He holds dear the ideas of recognizing and embracing differences, and judging people by the content of their character.
“(King) showed me that no matter how other people looked at me, that I was always true to myself and loved myself as me,” he said.
Cooking is a passion Belton pursued at a young age. His mother taught him the basics—how to peel shrimp, wash dishes, and do laundry. Watching a family friend open a restaurant and his mother’s ongoing guidance, he taught himself to perfect dishes of the Bayou.
“I grew up in a home where the kitchen was the Grand Central Station of the house,” Belton said.
He shares his love of cooking on WYES-TV’s New Orleans Cooking with Kevin Belton, and he teaches classes at the New Orleans School of Cooking. In 2014 he was recognized as one of the top twenty Louisiana chefs by the American Culinary Federation.
He said New Orleans cuisine is the epitome of soul food.
“You use your senses but you cook from the heart,” he said.
The hodgepodge of food and the history that created creole dishes is akin to the multicultural society he’s familiar with.
“Learning from the past helps us create the future,” he said.
Belton has English, French, Native American and African ancestry. His mother’s family has roots in the French-Caribbean island of Martinique and his French-speaking father’s family came from the Bayou Lafourche area of South Louisiana, near Thibodaux.
“He describes himself as a gumbo,” Williams said. “His background—being creole—with Tyler Together, that is part of our mission to bring together different communities in Tyler and make it one. We are very inclusive. His background symbolizes that.”
In our hurried lives, Belton hopes to see more people sitting at the table with friends and family to enjoy a meal. It’s a way of sharing history and understanding each other, he said.
IF YOU GO
What: Martin Luther King Jr. Day Interfaith Community Celebration
When: 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 16
Where: Starting at the Downtown Square in Tyler and marching to Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, 423 S. Broadway Ave.