Johns Hopkins will celebrate the birthday of Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. with its annual event to be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 12, at Turner Auditorium and Concourse on the East Baltimore campus and broadcast to several other university and health system locations.
Begun in 1982, the Johns Hopkins Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration is intended to honor King's legacy of nonviolent activism and community service.
Keynote speaker for this year's event is congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis, D-Ga. Lewis will share the stage with Dick Gregory, comedian and activist, who will receive the Ideals Award in recognition of his outstanding service and commitment to King's principles.
Levi Watkins, founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration and chair of its committee, says the program was started for two reasons: "to pause as an institution and recognize the incredible sacrifice that King made" and "to try and stimulate thoughts, actions and behavior that would secure the transformation of King's dream into reality."
Watkins, himself an outspoken advocate of equal rights, says he feels there are both an "illusion of racial equality" and a "renaissance of racial conservatism" active in America today. He cites the recent voting controversy in Florida and disparities between races in access to health care as signs that this country is still not blind to color. While "great strides" toward racial equality have been made, Watkins says, King's dream has yet to be fully realized.
"I want people to come to the program to be restimulated by King's message," says Watkins, associate dean for postdoctoral programs and professor of cardiac surgery at the School of Medicine. "And for those who have been faced with instances of bigotry in their lives, this will be a program where they can both remember and recommit themselves not to tolerate it."
The event will include the ninth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Awards ceremony, in which seven Hopkins employees will be honored for having demonstrated through community service the same spirit of volunteerism and citizenship that characterized King's life.
Keynote speaker Lewis--author of Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement--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.
Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing personal dignity and building what he calls "the beloved community." During the civil rights movement Lewis was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Due to his affiliation with that group, Lewis took part in the March 7, 1965, march of 600 civil rights protesters from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, the state's capital. When the group attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, they were met and attacked by state and local police, leaving 17 hospitalized and 65 injured, including Lewis, who was beaten unconscious. The images of the assaulted marchers--on a day that was dubbed "Bloody Sunday"--so horrified President Lyndon Johnson that he demanded Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a turning point in the fight for civil rights.
Dick Gregory is an entertainer who gained fame for his satirical views on American racial attitudes. He later became an author, civil rights leader and business executive. Gregory's unflagging sense of justice has led him from Louisiana to Ireland to fight for human rights.
"Dick Gregory gave up a promising career to become an activist, working against hunger, poverty and inequality. He has done a lot of good in his life, and is well deserving of the Ideals Award," Watkins says. "What [Lewis and Gregory] have in common is a life committed to the principles of Dr. King, trying to make his dream a reality."
A book signing of Gregory's Callus on My Soul: A Memoir and Lewis' Walking With the Wind will take place after the ceremony.
An estimated 1,000 people are expected at the event, Watkins says. Those who are unable to attend can view it on closed-circuit television at 218 Maryland Hall, Homewood; Kossiakoff Center, APL; Anna Baetjer Room, SPH; Carroll Auditorium, Bayview; and Tilghman Auditorium, Hurd Hall and Patient Channel 60, JHH.