About 200 people gathered to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and works at the Carver Recreation Center on Monday in observance of Dr. King’s birthday. The civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate would have turned 94 on Jan. 15.
The event was organized by Charles Alexander (who goes by Mr. Alex-Zan), one of the 12 people who helped desegregate schools in Charlottesville in 1959. It was the 10th year Alex-Zan had put together the community celebration, and the first year that event was held in person since the pandemic hit.
“We put emphasis on works,” Alex-Zan said. “A small percentage of something is worth more than 100% of nothing.”
Alex-Zan had promised a rousing celebration, and he, along with dozens in attendance who helped him, delivered.
Attendees sang “Victory is Mine” and other hymns and spirituals, led by Phyllis Bowman, Ebenezer Baptist Church’s music coordinator.
“I know everybody here knows ‘Victory is Mine.’ Let’s get a little action up in here today,” Bowman said.
The event was a celebration not just of King, but also of people who are continuing his works in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Alex-Zan recognized caregivers to the elderly, school staff and law enforcement.
Dr. Reverend Lehman D. Bates was awarded this year’s Alicia B. Lugo Award. The award is given each year to someone in the community whose contributions honor the life and works of Lugo, the first Black woman to chair the Charlottesville School Board.
Bishop George Gohanna delivered a speech that remembered the hardships Black Americans have faced, as well as those people’s perseverance.
“We’ve come in shackles. We came on boats in chains,” Gohanna said. “We have come a very long way.”
Singer Varina gave a rousing rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” eliciting applause throughout as she masterfully hit and held high notes. Alex-Zan recognized three Black entrepreneurs who shared their stories with the crowd.
Yet it was the presentation of four youngsters who are part of Alexander’s TFL — or Thirst for Knowledge — group that he seemed happiest about. After asking each to share a bit about their activities and talents, he held up a miniature wooden door and asked each one, in succession, to knock on it.
“Knock again!” he told them. “Because you have to keep knocking to get what you want.”
Alexander also recognized Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, author of the critically acclaimed “My Monticello,” who was in attendance.
Lynne Anderson contributed to this report.
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