At a panel discussion Monday, a group of local leaders called on the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to help them reflect on the state of their community.
Many of the participants quoted some of King’s most famous words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and asked the crowd to never forget that message.
“He taught us to open our eyes and see injustice around us every day,” said Wyc Orr, a Gainesville attorney and former Democratic state representative. “...If we’re going to be true to his legacy ... we have to see injustice that still thrives around us.”
This was the first year the Newtown Florist Club’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day festivities included a panel discussion. The event, held at the Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School, also included a keynote speaker, songs and prayers
The panelists were asked to talk about how King’s work affected and continues to impact their respective fields.
While addressing the nearly 200 people in attendance, Merrianne Dyer, superintendant of Gainesville City Schools, said if King were alive today he would be working to gain equal education rights for the children of immigrants. She said legislators who want to deny these individuals the right to an education are denying them the rights King fought for.
“The issue of access to higher education to our children ... is the civil rights issue of our generation,” she said.
Jerry Gonzales, executive director of the Georgia Association of Elected Officials, addressed the same issue in his remarks.
“We must call it out for what it is,” he said. “It’s evil and morally reprehensible to deny a child the right to their education.”
As the keynote speaker for the event, Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming, regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said environmental injustice affects all aspects of society, leaking over into political and economic issues.
Fleming, the first black director of the EPA’s Region 4, said healthy air and ground water breeds healthy economies with thriving business communities.
“We thrive as a nation when all of our communities thrive,” she said.
Andre Cheek, an event organizer, said she has attended these holiday celebrations for years, but Monday’s was the most powerful she had ever seen.
Some of the most moving moments of the program came during the musical performances, when various singers called for change and unity in their community.
Will Campbell, principal of Fair Street, sang a song that he wrote himself, entitled “One Gainesville.”
“One love. One hope. One heart. One soul,” he sang.
The audiencestood and echoed him as he chanted, “One Gainesville.”