On the far wall of Levi Watkins' cramped office in Blalock Hall there is a painted montage. The images that leap out are of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, both key figures in the civil rights movement. Also in the painting are the images of the Montgomery State House, presided over by then governor George Wallace; a station wagon, representing the vehicles that the black community used to transport its members during the bus boycott; and the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, which Watkins attended and where he first met King. The most prominent figures in the painting are of Watkins himself and the familiar Hopkins Hospital dome.
Watkins, associate dean for postdoctoral programs and professor of cardiac surgery at the School of Medicine, views the montage as a window to both his past and his present. Having grown up in Montgomery, Ala., during the height of civil unrest in this country, he recalls the days he drove a station wagon like the one depicted in the painting, and he remembers the time in his life when he "got [my] butt kicked" and friends had their houses bombed just because of the color of their skin. The Hopkins dome reminds him of how far he's come in his career and how much progress has been made in the war against racism and prejudice.
But he warns that the war is not over and says that if King were alive today, he would still be fighting for racial equality and social justice.
"He would be disappointed about the inequality of health care, that 40 percent of black children still live in poverty, and the non-inclusion of minorities in the highest levels of power," says Watkins. "Pro-activism is the key. We can't be timid in this day of ultra-conservatism, and we can't forget Dr. King's activism and his struggle. That is what got him killed; not just that he loved, but that he did something about his love."
To honor King's memory, Watkins in 1982 initiated the Johns Hopkins Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration. This year's event will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at Turner Auditorium in East Baltimore.
The event includes the seventh annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Awards ceremony, in which this year's 12 winners will be honored for having demonstrated, through community service, the same spirit of volunteerism and citizenship that characterized the life of King (related story, below).
The keynote speaker will be Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP National Board, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at American University and professor of history at the University of Virginia. Bond joins a list of notable speakers in the event's history that includes Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu, Coretta Scott King, Harry Belafonte, Maya Angelou and Rosa Parks.
It was during his days at Morehouse College in Atlanta that Bond, now 58, first became involved in the civil rights movement. He founded the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights, the Atlanta University Center student civil rights organization that directed three years of non-violent anti-segregation protests that won integration of Atlanta's movie theaters, lunch counters and parks, and, in 1960, helped form the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee. He left Morehouse in 1961, one semester short of graduation, to join the staff of a new protest newspaper, The Atlanta Enquirer.
Bond next entered the world of politics. He was elected in 1965 to a one-year term in the Georgia House of Representatives, but the members of the House voted not to seat him because of his outspoken opposition to the war in Vietnam. Bond was re-elected in 1966, to fill his vacant seat, but again the House voted to bar him from membership. Some months later he won a third election, this time to a two-year term, and in December of that year the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Georgia House had violated Bond's rights in refusing him his seat.
In 1971 Bond returned to Morehouse and graduated, receiving his bachelor's degree in English. He was elected in 1974 to the state Senate, where he served for 13 years. When he left office in 1987, Bond had been elected to public office more times than any other black Georgian, and he had sponsored or co-sponsored more than 60 bills that had become law, including a pioneer sickle-cell anemia testing program and a statewide program providing low-interest home loans to low-income Georgians.
Bond has served on a number of advisory boards that have dealt with race relations and was founder of the Southern Elections Fund, an early political action committee that aided in the elections of rural southern black candidates.
Watkins says that Bond was chosen as keynote speaker because of his presence in the civil rights struggle and his example of leadership that was the essence of Martin Luther King Jr.
The event, Watkins says, is intended to celebrate King's life and the personal principles for which he stood.
"It's about what kind of man he was--giving, loving and honest," says Watkins, who will preside over the commemoration and introduce Bond. "But just as important, he stood for the activism that was in him."
Roughly 1,000 people are expected to attend the event, Watkins says, as well as hundreds of other Hopkins employees and hospital patients who will view it on closed-circuit television at Hopkins Hospital, Bayview, Homewood and APL.
Watkins says that he wants people to come away with an understanding of the problems that racism has caused, the progress that has been made to fight racism, what hasn't been done and what people can still do to help.
To that end, Watkins says that honoring faculty and staff for community service is a significant aspect of the celebration, as it's important that we must all come together as a community to help solve our problems.
"We are going to recognize some beautiful people who have done wonderful things. I hope people will walk away committed to doing something," Watkins says. "This is the only time in this community where everybody comes together, doctors and students, presidents and janitors, blacks and whites. I think people will leave with a good spirit."