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Alex-Zan holds 10th annual MLK event, stresses work to continue King's dream

As cities around the country observe Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday Monday, one of Charlottesville’s most respected and beloved leaders is holding his tenth community event to remember King’s legacy and to ask people: What are you going to do to make a better Charlottesville?

“We put an emphasis on work,” said Charles “Alex-Zan” Alexander. “The question is: after the program is over, after the holiday is over, what are you gonna do? You got to work.”

Alexander, who last spring was honored with his mother, Elizabeth Alexander Taylor, with the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Award, was one of the Charlottesville Twelve, who integrated city schools in 1959. He has worked in the community for decades, first as an activist and now as a starter of countless programs and projects to work with youth.

On Sunday, Alexander told The Daily Progress that everyone who strives for the social justice that King envisioned needs to focus on solutions and to be ready to work.

“I challenge the young activists: What’s your plan?” Alexander said. He encourages people to go from what he calls “WBC” — or whining, begging and complaining — to “CIP” — creating, innovating and producing.

Toward that goal, Monday’s free observance, which is from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Carver Recreation Center, will not be a somber affair, Alexander said. He wants to inspire people and to get them excited about helping others.

“This is not a wake,” he said. Alexander has assembled a cross-section of entrepreneurs, artists, authors and others to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy. The Covenant Mime Ministry will provide dance entertainment, and vocalist Varina will sing. Bishop George Gohanna will be the featured speaker.

Alexander is particularly happy to have school-age members of the TFL — or Thirst for Learning — team on hand. The TFL team is just one way Alexander works to connect people in the community and to provide inspiration for young people, whom he is very worried about at this time.

“We all need each other,” he said. “One thing I’m gonna do tomorrow is to have everybody turn to the people next to them and say ‘I’m glad you’re here.’”

Stitching together community connections is important, Alexander said, “because we never know when we’re going to need help.”

Young people in Charlottesville particularly need to know that adults are there for them, said.

A highlight of the event will be the announcement of this year’s Alicia B. Lugo Award, an award given to someone who works for social justice. Lugo was the first Black woman to chair the Charlottesville School Board. She was born in Charlottesville in 1941 and attended Burley High School, choosing not to attend Lane High School, the white high school in town at that time that was being integrated. Lugo was valedictorian of the Class of 1959 and returned to teach at Burley after graduating from what is now Hampton University.

Lugo died in 2011.

Last year’s winner of the award named in her memory was Nikuyah Walker, the former mayor of Charlottesville.


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