“Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”
The title of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final book before his assassination in 1968 has arguably found new relevance in 2017 as Delaware County kicks off its two-day observance of the Civil Rights leader’s legacy.
The celebration includes the 32nd annual MLK worship service at Methodist Theological School, 3081 Columbus Pike, 3 p.m. Sunday.
Delaware’s King observance will continue with the MLK Breakfast Celebration in the Benes Room of Ohio Wesleyan’s Hamilton-Williams Campus Center, 40 Rowland Ave., at 7:45 a.m. Monday.
“This timing is so important for this event,” said Jim Mendenhall, co-chairman of the celebration committee.
“Four days after we have this celebration will be the inauguration of Donald J. Trump. What’s that going to mean,” he said.
Mendenhall said these are “tumultuous times in our history” with the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election as race and gender played a prominent role during the campaign.
“We are such a divided nation right now based on politics,” he said.
“Do we continue in a chaotic state or do we try to come together as a community and look for the general interest of all of us as human beings and for the most part Americans and make this country great.”
The observance of King’s legacy is unique for Delaware, Mendenhall said, which continues to be conservative.
But the city has a “wonderful blend of town gown” and its relationship with Ohio Wesleyan University has become closer within the last 10 years, he said. Mendenhall grew up on Park Avenue during the 1960s and 1970s and is alumnus of Delaware Hayes High School and OWU.
“There’s always been a progressive element in this city,” he said, but Delaware will have the opportunity to become a leader or go with the flow over the next four years.
Rev. Gregory Kendrick Jr., pastor at United Methodist Church for All People in Columbus, will be the featured speaker for Sunday’s portion and provide insight as an African American who is part of the millennial generation.
“There’s almost a sense of either/or to chaos or community but often times what I’ve realized … King definitely wasn’t proposing us to wait until chaos abates to start building community because that just doesn’t happen,” he said.
Kendrick said he believes there’s more that unifies Americans than divides them.
“As humans we hold within ourselves so many things that should be celebrated,” he said. “… Yes, I am a African American. That’s not the sum total of who I am … I am from Chicago but I’m also then a representative of the family from Mississippi.”
It’s “easier to have these either/or categories when oftentimes in the majority of lives are both/and,” he said.
The observance will also take place four days before Barack Obama, the first African American president leaves office. Mendenhall said the jury is still out on his legacy, but he and Kendrick agreed there’s no denying the historical significance of his election in 2008.
“My parents, grandparents never thought we could have a black president,” Mendenhall said
But Obama broke the chain of 43 presidents who were all white males, he said, and made “it more palatable for the next black person to run.”
But Kendrick said America has not grapple with its issue of racism and will continue to impact black Americans from those who pursue office such as class president in their schools to the highest office in the land.
“The stain of racism on American history is one that cannot be whitewashed for lack of a better word,” he said.
“… And it reared its head in 2016 and 2015 like never before.”
Additionally, Monday’s featured speaker will be Rev. Dr. Valerie Bridgeman, founder of Woman Preach Inc. and an associate professor of Homiletics and Hebrew Bible at the Methodist Theological School of Ohio.
Bridgeman said she wants to get past the buzzwords such as liberal or conservative and also how to build bridges among different religions.
She said she will focus on what can be accomplished at the local level in Delaware without getting overwhelmed by the big picture and provide new context about the words “general welfare” from the U.S. Constitution.
“What does that mean in the current climate,” she said.
For more information about the event, call Susanna Long at 740-203-6812.
Brandon Klein can be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.