By Coshandra Dillard
Despite a rainy morning, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Tyler Monday to celebrate the life, legacy and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In its 31st year, the event organized by the Tyler Together Race Relations Forum attracted people of various ages, races, faiths and backgrounds.
The more than two-hour celebration began with prayer and short speeches that adhered to the event’s theme, “The Time is Always Ripe to be Right.” Participants noted that speaking out against racism and injustice can be uncomfortable, but is necessary.
A program followed a march to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. There, city leaders and dignitaries reiterated the message, which is selected from an excerpt of King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail.
In the letter, King noted that the silence among good, moderate people is just as harmful as a member of the Ku Klux Klan or another hate group.
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. —Martin Luther King Jr, 1963
Tyler Together Race Relations Forum member Anwar Khalifa pointed to the importance of speaking out during a time when there is political discourse filled with hateful rhetoric.
“When you hear people generalizing about Muslims as terrorists, speak up,” Khalifa said. “When you hear someone say the N-word, speak up.”
The statuesque keynote speaker, Kevin Belton, advocated the need to accept and appreciate people of different backgrounds and appearance. Standing 6-foot-9 and weighing 400 pounds, the New Orleans celebrity chef said King’s calm and nonviolent approach to disobedience is particularly inspiring.
“When you get mad and upset, you can’t do your job,” he said.
Belton also inspired young people in the audience to find their purpose in life and to make good choices when no one is watching.
“The best time to do what’s right is when you’re alone,” he said.