What does Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mean to people? That's the question being asked of the Reston community as the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Birthday celebration approaches its 18th year.
That's also the question that led Reston residents Gilberto Amayo, Adelle Jones and Haywood Hopson to dedicate their time to bringing the philosophy and legacy of King to the people of Reston.
Observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday will begin on Sunday, Jan. 19, with a Commemorative March, beginning at 2:45 p.m. at Lake Anne Plaza, and a Gospel Concert, entitled "Voices of Inspiration," beginning at 4 p.m. at the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation.
Starting at 10 a.m. on Jan. 20, a community celebration will be held at South Lakes High School. Beginning with "Eyes on the Prize," a video presentation, the program runs continuously until 5 p.m. In the midst of a day full of singing, dancing, video presentations, step teams and prayer, the highlight of the program is the keynote speaker, former South Lakes High School principal, George W. Felton. Felton served in the army during the Korean War, and then went on to a teaching career that ended at SLHS in 1984. Felton has received numerous awards, including the 1976 NAACP Award of the Fairfax County Branch for Outstanding and Courageous Service in the Field of Human Rights, and the 1984 Reston Links for Educational Leadership.
AS A PREVIEW to this year's program, one based on the global perspective of King's work, Amayo, Jones and Hopson described the moments when King first touched their lives, and how he continues to influence them today.
Amayo arrived in the Reston area about 12 years ago. Originally from Honduras, Amayo remembers the first time he heard of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and first decided to emulate King's example in his own life.
"When I was living in Honduras in the '60s we started listening to the news from [America]," Amayo said. As he learned second-hand about the struggles of the Civil Rights movement in this country, Amayo, although physically separated from the movement in the United States, formed an emotional and intellectual connection to the philosophy of King. "We felt that they were suffering, we began to feel solidarity and compassion," Amayo said, as the philosophy of King became an integral part of his life in Central America. When Amayo came to the United States to live in Reston, he was immediately drawn to the Martin Luther King Jr. Christian Church, and to the annual celebration held in King's honor.
Amayo, serving as the multicultural representative of Central America for this year's "Global Perspective" celebration of King, hopes that the program will make the people of Reston aware that King was a leader on a global level, and he hopes to emphasize that aspect of King's personality and achievement.
WHEN JONES was growing up, she experienced segregation first-hand. Attending segregated schools in North Carolina, Jones was drawn to the words of King and his view of a "beloved community."
As she matured, surrounded by racism, Jones remembers the moment that gave her a perspective that would change her life. She was in Atlanta when Medgar Evers' body was at a train station, being moved to Washington D.C. for burial, and she remembers asking herself "how someone could kill someone because they were thinking differently about how our society should be."
"Dr. King was trying to make it better for everyone, not just black people," Jones said. She hopes that the celebration this weekend will impress upon the Reston community King's vision of a "beloved community," a community that does not tolerate poverty or racism, one that works to eliminate all mechanisms that keep people down. "Reston is a unique community," said Jones, emphasizing the importance of "[making] sure everyone has access to resources that are available, no matter what their economic status or ethnic background."
HOPSON WAS in his early teenage years when he heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. Hopson was inspired by those words and, through the Reston Community Center, plays an integral role today in bringing the two-day celebration to the people of Reston. The goal of the program is for "people to leave with appreciation for each other's character," for the overall goal of a "betterment of culture," for the people of Reston to work together, he said.
Hopson, Jones and Amaya all hope that the program will impress upon the people of Reston the concept that there is a global connection surrounding the philosophy of King, a philosophy advocating the principles of nonviolence and inclusiveness. "What affects someone directly affects all of us indirectly," said Amaya.