King’s legacy alive in Boone
When the Ku Klux Klan marched through downtown Boone and
Blowing Rock in 1992, Watauga County flared in disgust and began organizing a protest.
But instead of answering hate with anger, members of Bahá'í, Muslim, Christian and other faith and non-practicing communities initiated a healing counteraction – the Unity Festival.
Now, 21 years later, the festival has grown into multiple events, including the popular Unity Festival in spring and another that coincides with Martin Luther King Jr. Day – “I Have a Dream Week.”
This year's week of dances, devotionals, speeches, music and crafts runs from Jan. 20 to 27.
Akal Dev Sharonne, a flutist who will be performing during the week, was one of the participators in the 1992 response. During a past celebration, following a ceremonial dancer ebbing circles in the hall of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Sharonne recited Rumi's poem “Joy at Sudden Disappointment.”
“Whatever comes, comes from a need,/a sore distress, a hurting want,” the poem begins. “And every need brings in what's needed./Pain bears its cure like a child...Someone once asked a great sheikh/what Sufism was./ 'The feeling of joy/when sudden disappointment comes.'”
“I mentioned the fact that had the KKK not gotten the permit to march, we wouldn't be here right now; had not these people had the courage to answer hatred with love,” Sharonne said. “That is what continues to be the theme for 'I Have a Dream Week.'”
“I Have a Dream Week” is a reverenced celebration of King, the prophetical activist commemorated this year on Monday, Jan. 21. His rousing “I Have a Dream” speech's pleas were not limited to civil rights, but aired to all people and struggles.
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair,” he said. “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”
At the close of the week’s events, his speech will be read aloud, “every word of it” married to the ambitions of the week, Sharonne said.
“'What the heart knows today, the head will understand tomorrow,'” organizer Mary Gray said, quoting James Stephens. “This is a very rich list of events. Appreciation of the arts will always lead to more appreciation of diversity. You empower people by reaching their hearts.”
The 1992 Unity Festival was held at Western Watauga Library in Sugar Grove and attended by 300 people. Local churches enlivened prayer and support groups were formed for strength again KKK-cultivated fear.
After three festivals, attended by more than 1,000 people, the Unity Festival inspired the I Have a Dream Task Force in 1998, an umbrella group that notified organizations and organized and publicized events for the week. Supported by the Watauga County Arts Council, the task force sculpted the week of events. The programs grew every year and were intensified by local churches and organizations following 9/11.
In 2006, Appalachian State University's Diversity Festival joined the Unity Festival and inspired mentorships and volunteer work. The task force helped inspire People of the Planet Soccer Tournaments and the local Compassionate Communication group.
Since 2008, the task force no longer receives sponsorship or proclamations from local government. However, after “12 years of a great deal of energy put into it,” the community independently hosts the events, Gray said.
“It's not official, but it happened to take root and now happens every January,” she said.
Since the disbanding of the task force, there have been no school programs organized. However, if any schools would like to organizer programs and events for next year's week of events, those interested should call Teri Wiggans at (828) 264-4443.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated nationwide by closed schools and businesses. Jubilant week-long celebrations are held from the heights of New York University and the DC Public Library to North Carolina at UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Asheville.
This week is designed to incite a “new” New Year of unity and peace, an awareness that longs to continue by “every breath we breathe,” Sharonne said.
For more information, call Sharonne at (828) 264-1384.
Schedule of Events
Sunday, Jan. 20
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemoration: Dr. Melanie
Childers, director of pastoral care at Watauga Medical Center, will speak on
“Dr. King’s Legacy, A Paradoxical Leader.” The speech will take place at 11 a.m. at Boone Unitarian Universalist Church, located at 381 E. King St. in Boone. For more information, call (828) 355-9779.
Sunday Worship Service: 11a.m. Dr. Keith McCutchen and ASU Gospel Choir will lead a reflection on the influence of the church and black gospel music on the Civil Rights Movement. The service will be held at 11 a.m. at Boone Mennonite Brethren Church, located at 161 Church Street in Boone. For more information, visit http://www.boonechurch.com.
Monday, Jan. 21
MLK Challenge: Hailed as “a day on, not a day off,” the 14th annual MLK Challenge is a day of community service, in which students literally serve to compete. The event starts and finishes at Legends on the ASU campus at 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., respectively. To register, contact Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT) at (828) 262-2193.
16th annual Music Unity Service: Featuring the Junaluska Gospel Choir of the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church, the services takes place at 7 p.m. at Mabel Methodist Church, located on Old U.S. 421. Desserts to follow. For more information, call (828) 297-3568.
Tuesday, Jan. 22
Running from Jan. 22 to 26, the Watauga County Public Library is hosting a multi-cultural dove peace mobile project, an open craft table celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. The library is located at 140 Queen St. in downtown Boone. For more information, call (828) 264-8784.
29th annual MLK Commemoration: The Appalachian State University Performing Arts Series presents “An Evening with Maya Angelou,” featuring the celebrated poet addressing the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. and King’s legacy. The event takes place at 7 p.m. at the Holmes Convocation Center on Rivers St. Doors open at 6 p.m., and admission is free, with no tickets required. For more information, call (828) 262-6518 or visit http://www.multicultural.appstate.edu.
Saturday, Jan. 26
Young World Radio Show: The “I Have a Dream Special” is a one-hour children’s radio tribute to King, starting at noon on WATA-AM 1450 and WXIT-AM 1200. For more information, call (828) 265-0504.
Sunday, Jan. 27
Devotional: Dedicated to prisoners of conscience worldwide, the meeting is sponsored by Baha’is of Watauga, Ashe and Avery counties, from 10 a.m. to noon in Stony Fork. For more information and directions, call (828) 268-2191.
A Celebration of Diversity in Music and Poetry: Featuring flutist Akal Dev Sharonne and friends, the celebration takes place at 3 p.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Boone. A donation of $10 is requested to cover costs. Seating is limited, so reservations are recommended. For more information, or to make a reservation, call (828) 264-1384.
Dances of Universal Peace: Dedicated to King’s dream, the dances will take place at 5:30 p.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, located at 170 Councill St. in Boone. A $5 donation is requested. For more information, call (828) 264-1384.