From its conception, Reston has embraced the ideal of unity as propagated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Remembering his teachings and ideals are still important to Reston residents.
"Reston is known to be a very progressive community," said the Rev. Jean Robinson-Casey of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Christian Church. "It's a model, and you can't be a model without reaching and pulling other people in."
Restonians gathered at Southgate Community Center on Monday morning for a march commemorating King's life. Rodney Scott, a member of the organizing committee, said starting the day's celebrations at Southgate brings them back to the beginning, to where the MLK Church and the idea for the march started. Scott said the celebration has grown tremendously over the years and urged Restonians to get involved as volunteers in the community, in order to further King's ideas.
"We march because we want to show closeness," said Betty Collins, chairman of the celebration's planning committee.
Monday's march ended at Reston Community Center Hunters Woods, where the discussion began on how King's lessons are relevant today. The marchers sang "We Shall Overcome," almost 39 years after King's death.
"It is evident we haven't overcome when we still have so many hate groups in this country," said Robinson-Casey. "We have come a long way, but the dream has to come off the paper, out of the history books."
NEWS ANCHOR Derek McGinty delivered the keynote address at the "Are We Keeping the Promise?" program. He said King would be 78 years old today, and asked what senior citizen King would think of today's society. McGinty said nobody can be certain of the answer, but added: "I would sell important internal organs to have him as a guest on my talk show."
In order to answer his own questions, McGinty cited events that recently grabbed the public's attention, and then answered, quoting King's speeches and letters. An example of former Georgia U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney — who accused a Capitol policeman of racism after he did not recognize her — was answered with King's own words from the Letter From Birmingham Jail. As McGinty interpreted the words, if McKinney believed she was wronged, she should have been willing to go to jail for it.
Examples of comedian Michael Richards' rant using the "N" word and today's technology were also answered with King's own words. "Four decades after his death, King is, as the young folks like to say, kicking the moral clarity," said McGinty. He added that it was important to remember the usual lessons about King, those of a civil rights leader, but more relevant to today's society are his teachings. "What I find a bit more interesting, and perhaps more relevant for us in the 21st Century is King the moral philosopher," said McGinty.
King, said McGinty, was not a man who tried to make things comfortable for everyone. "He wrote things and said things that were uncomfortable," he said. McGinty said King spoke up against the American involvement in Vietnam at a time when the country was divided over it. "Maybe stuff hasn't changed that much after all. The message of Dr. King's life still resonates very deeply," said McGinty.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-At Large) also spoke about King's positions on Vietnam. He said breaking with President Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam was the third of the three major turns in King's career. "Don't go to his 'I Have a Dream' speech, but go to his Letter From Birmingham Jail," in order to learn King's lessons. "There were three major turns in his career, all of which involved him ignoring good, sound, conservative advice."
The first turn was getting involved in the civil rights movement, even though black and white ministers in Birmingham asked him why he was coming there, and told him they could work things out on their own. "King said, 'There is injustice here,'" said Connolly.
The second turn was taking the case of civil rights to the North. His advisors told him they had their hands full in the South, but King said, "There is injustice here," When he broke with Johnson on Vietnam, many civil rights leaders saw it as a mistake to alienate from a president who enacted civil rights legislation. "King said, 'Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere,'" said Connolly.
"He was a man of enormous moral courage and enormous moral conviction," said Connolly. "Let's remember the model he set for us."
OTHERS WHO SPOKE at the celebrations reminded community members more could be done to further King's teachings. "We have come to remember Dr. King's teachings, but also, we have come here to see how we can engage ourselves in the future," said Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill). She talked about being a good neighbor, citing the example of Wesley Autrey — the New York City man who jumped under an oncoming train to save another man's life. "Autrey exhibited all the teachings Dr. King talked about," she said.
The executive director of RCC, Bonnie Freeman, said she is an outsider who came to Reston a little over a year ago. "It is very evident that Reston closely resembles the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.," said Freeman.
Chairman of RCC Board of Governors Bill Bouie remembered going to an event celebrating black history as a boy in Detroit, Mich., in 1964. "Martin Luther King was the keynote speaker, and he had Rosa Parks alongside him," said Bouie. He said the event affected his life greatly. He learned that day that attitude is everything. He sent a message to the youth. "If you have a positive attitude you are destined to do great things," said Bouie.
"We have to be careful to teach not to hate," said Fairfax County School Board member Stu Gibson (Hunter Mill). "That is a legacy that this community has embraced," he said.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Community Service Award winners were honored at the end of the program. South Lakes International Club for Education and Entertainment (SLICE) won the youth award. Four individuals from SLICE were honored: Richard Kwablah Tekpertey, Adrian de la Lama, Angela Castaneda and Nivedha Panneer. Friends of the Reston Regional Library won the organization award, and John Coleman, the South Lakes High School safety and security assistant, won the adult award. "We have nothing else to do but to serve," said Coleman as he accepted the award.