Though the format was different for this year’s Continuing His Dream and Works program, the message of honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy remained the same.
Held virtually, the eighth annual program retained the spirit and general format of years past, something the event’s organizer, Charlottesville motivational speaker and civil rights activist Charles “Alex-Zan” Alexander, worked hard to achieve.
Well known for his motivational mantras, Alexander said he hoped the broad, cross-sectional group of people who usually comes to the event at the Carver Recreation Center will recognize the importance of King’s message of listening to others.
“People are not listening. They’re not listening to their inner voice and not listening to each other, and, of course, the only way we can grow and learn is by listening,” he said in an interview with The Daily Progress. “The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand; we listen to reply, and that’s sort of like what’s going on today with Congress and politicians.”
As always, a big feature of the program was the presentation of the Alicia B. Lugo Award, which was given to Eddie Harris this year.
A community fixture, Harris is the founder and publisher of Vinegar Hill Magazine and works for local nonprofit ReadyKids as a parent educator with the REAL Dads program.
Harris said he founded the magazine, named after the Black Charlottesville neighborhood that was razed in 1964 in the name of urban renewal, after noticing how local media was portraying the Black community.
“I didn’t like the way that it was shaping up and the way that it was portraying the Black community in Charlottesville and so I wanted to give people an alternative, I wanted to give people a choice,” he said in an interview with The Progress.
Harris said he was honored and humbled to receive an award that carries Lugo’s name because of who she was and what she meant to the community.
“Ms. Lugo was one of the best that we have to offer as a community, and she was a warrior for the Black community,” he said. “I don’t really think that I should get an award for doing what it is I’m supposed to do, and so I accepted the award on behalf of my family, my neighborhood and my community.”
Before the award was presented, Lugo’s sister Pat Edwards spoke, giving background on Lugo’s life and describing her as “loving and generous to a fault.”
Born in 1941 on Anderson Street, Lugo attended the Jefferson School and became a dynamic presence in the halls of what was then Burley High School as both a student and a teacher, Edwards said. Lugo was valedictorian of the Class of 1959 and returned to teach at Burley after graduating from what is now Hampton University.
Among her various community commitments, she served on the Charlottesville School Board for 11 years, including five as the first African American female chair.
“Her deeply held belief in the importance of every life led her to fight passionately for the welfare of her community,” Edwards said.
As a result of the program’s changed format this year, Alexander was able to include footage of Lugo from an interview about the importance of Black history. In the footage, Lugo highlights the need to teach Black history to white teachers, something that wasn’t done before schools were integrated, leading to a negative impact on Charlottesville’s Black students.
“We didn’t teach them and, therefore, when Black kids and Black teachers walked into the desegregated public schools, we went in as people with no history, with no record of the things that we contributed to the American society, and we would be treated just like that,” Lugo said.
In the interview, Lugo shared a story about one of her students who, because no one believed in him, became sullen and angry. After noticing how he caught some of her more clever comments, Lugo said she recommended him for the Upward Bound program at the University of Virginia, where he went on to become a successful orthopedic surgeon.
The Continuing His Dream and Works program aired on a local cable access channel Monday and is available to watch at Alex-Zan.com. It featured several speakers and performers, including singer Jessica Eldridge, 4-year-old Ariah Carter reciting a poem, musician Ivan Orr and praise dancer Christine Witcher.
The event was not the only one that sought to honor King locally on Monday.
The United Way of Greater Charlottesville participated in the National Day of Service in honor of King, focusing its volunteer efforts on food security and environmental cleanup projects. Those projects including removing plastic bottles and other debris from Meadow Creek and Pollocks Branch and ridding invasive species from Riverview Park.
“Every year since I’ve been working at the United Way, we’ve gotten calls from groups wondering about service opportunities around MLK Day,” Anna Porter, community outreach coordinator for the local United Way, said in a news release. “We convened groups who regularly host events around this holiday and were directed to the B.F. Yancey Food Pantry.”