Annual MLK celebration expands to a two-day virtual conference01/13/2021 11:03AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
For the past 19 years, the third Monday of every January has been a constant date on the calendars for many of southern Chester County’s leading impact makers, elected and appointed officials and citizens committed to the dream of social justice.
The MLK Breakfast, sponsored by the MLKCommUNITY of the Greater Kennett Area, has been an annual love letter to the life and mission of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., celebrated in the spoken words of the civil rights icon, in song and in stirring messages by keynote speakers.
As the MLKCommUNITY’s Celebration Committee began to design their 20th anniversary event for 2021, however, the limitations brought on by the coronavirus curtailed their plans for an in-person celebration. Following the lead of how education, business, faith and general communication has been conducted over the last several months, the group will be taking Dr. King’s message online for a global two-day virtual conference entitled, “To Seek Justice,” on Jan. 17 and 18.
The conference opens on Jan. 17 at 1 p.m., beginning with the workshop “Suspicion…Why and at What Cost?” that will explore the historical roots of racism and how they manifest in our present day, and provide the online audience to participate in breakout sessions.
On Jan. 18 beginning at 8:15 a.m., virtual attendees will get acquainted with other members of their “table group,” and at 9 a.m., Dr. Christina Edmondson will deliver her keynote address, “To Seek Justice.” A certified cultural intelligence facilitator, public speaker and mental health therapist, Edmondson is a frequent lecturer on the topics of leadership development, anti-racism and mental health. A former dean for Intercultural Development at Calvin University, her writing has been seen and referenced in Essence, YourBlackWorld.com and Gospel Today magazine, and she is a co-host of the “Truth’s Table” podcast.
Also presenting at the MLK Conference will be Freedom Rider and civil rights activist Joan Trumpauer and her son, the filmmaker Loki Mulholland. Following a 40-year teaching career, Trumpauer began the Joan Trumpauer Mulholland Foundation, dedicated to educating youth about the Civil Rights Movement and how they can become activists in their communities.
A frequent speaker on the topic of the Civil Rights Movement, Mulholland’s work as a filmmaker, writer, director and producer has earned him several awards. His first book, “She Stood for Freedom,” is an illustrated children’s tale about the life of his mother, and his award-winning film An Ordinary Hero, also about his mother, appeared on PBS.
The conference will also include featured presenter Anita Cason Friday, who is an attorney, workshop facilitator, community activist, author and the founder of Open Hearts...A Pathway for Racial Healing, in Berwyn, Pa. Her presentation will explore the historical roots of racism in the U.S. and how they manifest in our present-day interactions.
As part of its musical lineup, the conference will introduce award-winning gospel recording artist Phillip Carter, who will perform a musical tribute to Dr. King.
In conjunction with event sponsor Longwood Gardens, the event will also include a virtual tour of “Voices in the Landscape,” a new exhibit that features a series of ten stops throughout the gardens that can be experienced in-person or virtually from home. In this sensory, narrated experience, storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston honors and celebrates the strength, resilience and contributions of the African American community through the lens of horticulture and the power of story.
Faced with the prospect of having to cancel this year’s breakfast due to COVID-19 restrictions on indoor events, the MLKCommUNITY began to discuss other alternatives soon after the coronavirus led to shutdowns last March. Around that time, external communications coordinator Dan Cornett’s wife had just attended a computer science teachers’ national convention that was entirely virtual, using Hopin, an online format that offers several interactive areas that allow attendees to move in and out of rooms, similar to attending an event in person.
“I thought that if this format could be effective at a national convention, I knew we could adapt our event to a virtual building as well,” Cornett said. “It would give us the opportunity to expand on the idea that had originally been a breakfast into a virtual conference.”
“We had been constrained for the past 19 years by the Red Clay Room, and even though it is the largest venue of its kind in the area, we have had to turn people away every year,” said MLKCommUNITY President Carol Black. “When the pandemic hit us this past year, we put our heads together and said, ‘Everything is virtual now – school, networking, business, and shopping – so let’s see if we can do something virtual. The seeds then began to grow. Hopin offers us something that we couldn’t dream of having at our breakfast.”
Whether it is delivered in person or virtually, the message of the MLKCommUNITY of the Greater Kennett Area arrives in the wake of one of the most volatile years of racial unrest in recent American history. As it celebrates the 20th anniversary of its annual breakfast, Black said the mission of the group has suddenly been magnified.
“The battles we thought we had won in the sixties it seems were not won at all, cherished only by a few, and hated by many,” she said. “It is primarily because many people do not understand. Everything seems inwardly focused, that ‘it’s all about me.’ In reality, it is about love. Dr. King said that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.
“So in order to do it and not just talk about it, we need to get people in a position where they are not just focused on themselves but involved in the community, engaged in an effort to help others.”
Tickets to the MLK Conference are $20.00 and students are free. Proceeds of the conference will benefit scholarships for graduating seniors at Kennett, Unionville and Avon Grove High Schools and Lincoln University; summer opportunities for disadvantaged children at Camp Cadet; MLK Advocates Forums; and support for projects that promote equality, justice, peace and the eradication of poverty in the Kennett Square area.
To learn more about the MLKCommUNITY of the Greater Kennett Area’s MLK Conference and to register to attend, visit www.mlkcommunity.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].