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Celebrating Martin Luther King Day

Moral principles revisited.

The celebration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday at South Lakes High School was attended by young and old, and included keynote speeches from Reston's founder Robert E. Simon, and U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8).

In his address to the audience at South Lakes High School's theater, Simon said there was no question in his mind Reston would become an inclusive community, welcoming all, when plans for it started in 1961. The idea at the time was to provide equal educational opportunities for all residents of Reston, and universal affordable housing. He added that decisions should be guided by moral principles, and that rationality and humanity need to be considered in budgetary decisions. Simon criticized the government for spending billions of dollars to send a man on Mars, when there are so many needs not met for man on Earth. "If Dr. Martin Luther King were alive today," said Simon, "you sure would not hear him saying 'mission accomplished.'"

THE PROGRAM, "Twenty Years of Keeping the Promise/Uniting Cultures — A Global Perspective," included choir and dance groups and multicultural booths, where participants could learn about cultures from other parts of the globe, such as Pakistan, Zambia, or Haiti.

Shortly after Simon's speech, Moran took the stage, telling the audience he could not help but think how radical at the time was Simon's concept of an economically and racially integrated community.

Moran's comments about Simon's vision and achievements in Reston came as he prepared to introduce an award recognizing the late Martha Pennino for her work in the community. Pennino, a former member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and a community activist once made her office in Reston a temporary homeless shelter.

"Reston is a caring community because of its caring leaders, such as Martha Pennino," said Moran.

He said Dr. Martin Luther King's achievements were reflected by the type of work Pennino did. Receiving the award on Pennino's behalf was her daughter, Bonita Pennino. "My mother fought for social justice," said Bonita Pennino, "because it was the right thing to do."

WHILE SIMON'S and Moran's speeches attracted mostly older members of the community, other events related to the celebration captured the attention of younger residents. The Orange Cafeteria at South Lakes high School hosted an event called "Out of Africa." The exhibit allowed children to do craft activities, such as making necklaces used in some African cultures for beautification and ceremonial purposes. It also had a story-telling aspect to it.

Merrie Wiggins acted as the griot, a tribal historian, who would pass on tales and legends of each tribe's history to the next generation. She used stories from Ghana, Congo, and South Africa. Wiggins said she was very satisfied with the attendance of those, of all ages, who came to listen to her stories, and especially the attention she received from them. She added that some came back for a second story.

There were plenty of volunteers to make the program run according to plan. The National Wildlife Federation had 27 of its employees, 22 of which worked at the Out of Africa exhibit, volunteer at the celebration. Ada Chan, one of the 22 in the room, said the organization encourages its employees to do community service at least twice a year. For the past three years, NWF's employees helped out extensively at the event, said Chan.

The Teen activities in the high school's Green Cafeteria were hosted by Jermain Shannon, a rapper who is known as "Soul Enforcer." Shannon brought William "Flip" Clay as a keynote speaker for this part of the celebration. Clay drew comparisons to the Civil Rights and Hip-Hop Movements. Clay's audience included some of the parents of teens who listened to his message of using music to express one's feelings in a positive way.

"All music is an expression," said Clay, an educational consultant who believes in incorporating rhyme and rhythm into the instructional curriculum, "the reason why I chose Hip-Hop is because it is universal." During his speech, Clay held up an 8-track to demonstrate to the parents in the audience the times have changed, and the way we teach should change as well.

DONATIONS FOR BOTH local and global needs could be made at the event. The coat and food drive for Reston Interfaith was stationed in the Yellow Cafeteria, while donations for a tsunami relief effort could be made in the area hosting the multicultural exhibits.

Janice Scott, the chair of the Program and Entertainment Committee for the celebration, has been involved with it since its inception. She said each year she sees more of the same faces attending the event, and each year she sees more new faces. The event, according to Scott, gets larger each year, and reflects the spirit of Dr. King's legacy to help those in need. Also at the celebration, among others, were Supervisor Cathy Hudgins and School Board member Stuart Gibson.