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January 22 2014

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Birmingham, education, outreach and fellowship is key

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Scenes from the City of Birmingham's observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A wreath laying at Kelly Ingram Park at the King statue was followed by a march from Birmingham City Hall to Kelly Ingram Park. A rally followed the march. The Iota Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity hold a wreath laying at Kelly Ingram Park. (Joe Songer/

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By Madison Underwood |

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January 20, 2014 at 5:15 PM, updated January 20, 2014 at 5:23 PM

Read orginal article here.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama ­­ Just after 11 a.m. Monday, a recording of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech boomed over Kelly Ingram Park ­­ the site of many notable protests during the Civil Rights Movement he championed ­­ while the hundreds of people gathered in the park celebrated King's memory with fellowship and education.

"Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last," King said, as his speech faded into a soul song. Vendors lining the sidewalk hocked T­shirts or hot dogs and other concessions, and a mobile blood collection vehicle parked at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church took blood donations.

Earlier in the day, brothers of the Iota Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity joined hands during the annual laying of wreaths at the King statue. Afterwards, families milled around the park, experiencing James Drake's sculptures depicting the brutalities of the Movement, or headed over to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where admission is free on MLK Jr. Day.

Among those in the park was Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt, who said attending the festivities at Kelly Ingram Park "has become a tradition" for him. He noted that the day "brings people from all walks of life," and of all ethnicities together in the park.

"I think it's wonderful, because at the end of the day, I think we have more in common than we have differences," Hoyt said.

Hoyt pointed out the line full of families building in the courtyard of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

"It's important that we teach our young people, because we realize that not many of them understand what those persons must have went through in order to get to this stage," Hoyt said. "But I think the balance of that is to teach them how important it is to have those very ­­ I call them 'meager rights,' because everybody should have them ­­ and unfortunately that's not always the case."

Ahmad Ward, the head of education at BCRI, said that he sees many returning faces, people for whom visiting the institute on this holiday had become a tradition.

"We are fully expecting to see about 3,000 people," Ward said. "We've averaged about 3,000 people the past five years." At noon, Ward estimated the center had already admitted 600 to 700 people, but the big push would come after a march from City Hall to Kelly Ingram Park wrapped up later in the afternoon.

"Some people do this every year, and we are glad to see the folks," Ward said. "We're going to be here until we get them in." He noted that BCRI will be open on Mondays (when it is normally closed) from today through February, which is Black History Month.

Outside in the BCRI courtyard, volunteers from Operation Hope ­­ an organization that offers financial emergency preparedness services to individuals and small businesses ­­ canvassed people walking into and out of the Institute.

Damian Carson, program manager for the Birmingham Central branch of Operation Hope, said the group handed out disaster preparation information, including an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit, to about a thousand people.

Back in the park, where people awaited the marchers, Birmingham City Councilor Sheila Tyson said she came out to gauge the progress being made in the region.

"It's not only good to celebrate a person's birthday, but what they stood for ­­ has there been a change, is it getting better, is it getting worse?" she said.

Tyson said people are worried about health care after the closing of Cooper Green Mercy Hospital by the county last year, increases in sewer and water bills, and other concerns.

"There's so many issues that this county and this state is carrying on their shoulders, so what are we going to do about it?" she said, adding that everybody needs to pitch in.

"Everyone has a voice, everyone has something that they can do to improve the quality of life" of others, she said.

See photos from the park here, or more MLK Jr. Day activities here

Photos by Joe Songer

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