Author and motivational speaker Charles Alexander, better known as Mr. Alex-Zan, and his mother Elizabeth Alexander Taylor were the recipients of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Award at the Ting Pavilion on Sunday.
The award is given to someone in the greater Charlottesville area who has “demonstrated Dr. King’s commitment to the civil rights of all people, and to improving conditions and understanding between peoples of different races and ethnic backgrounds.”
The theme of the celebration was the urgency of the “beloved community,” a phrase popularized by Martin Luther King Jr. for a global vision “in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth,” according to The King Center.
“In line with our theme today, for decades, Alex-Zan has been helping to build a beloved community in the city of Charlottesville,” Rev. Alvin Edwards, pastor of Mount Zion First African Baptist Church, said Sunday.
Alexander was one of the Charlottesville Twelve who integrated city schools in 1959 and has been a community organizer and activist.
“A Charlottesville native, Alex-Zan credits his mother for his successful and creative life,” Edwards said.
Alexander said he comes from a family of giving.
“It’s not all about Mr. Alex-Zan,” he said. “I constantly tell folks, ‘A person that is wrapped up in him or herself makes a small package.’”
He said he carries around a backpack because he’s “still learning and still growing.” From his backpack, he pulled out a yellow rope, and reminded the audience to “not ever look down on anyone.”
“Regardless of who you are, or where you come from, you never know who is going to throw you a rope,” Alexander said.
The annual celebration of King is typically held closer to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizing committee held a panel discussion earlier this year and decided to delay this portion of the celebration.
“We figured we could do this in person here at the Pavilion — you’re outside, people don’t necessarily have to wear masks, it’s kind of up to them,” Edwards said in an interview. “It’s an opportunity for people to see each other, people who haven’t seen each other for these last two years on a regular basis. It brings together good fellowship.”
Charlottesville High School senior Jakia Maupin, winner of the student writing competition, read her award-winning essay, “Full of Passion and Out of Patience.”
“Dr. King’s vision is a world where not only do black and white people unite, but where the bonds between the black community are as thick as blood,” she said. “I cannot be content until my brothers and sisters no longer fear injustice. As a young black activist, it is instilled in me to carry out the vision of the magnificent Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
Rev. Brenda Brown-Grooms, the co-pastor of New Beginnings Community Church, Rabbi Tom Gutherz of Congregation Beth Israel and Edwards were the event’s keynote speakers and Jonathan Spivey led the MLK Community Choir in song.
Gutherz said King encouraged people to move beyond the comfort zones of their religious practices and beliefs.
“Religion must go beyond what we eat or we pray or we believe, but the test of us as religious people is also what are we doing and are we living in accordance with the values that we say we hold?” he said. “Religious fervor and faith cannot stop at the door of the church or the synagogue or mosque, or even in our personal relationships with one another. They must also become a lens, a plumb line, a measuring stick that goads us and provokes us to ask uncomfortable questions.”
Brown-Grooms said she’s been hearing about the beloved community for her entire life.
“I understand something about the beloved community that I used to not understand and that is that individuals have to will it together — together — before it will come,” she said