Community members turned out in force Monday to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the Edmonds Center for the Arts served as the venue for both a youth-oriented free morning program and a ticketed evening event that included presentation of a Beloved Community Award to former Lynnwood City Councilmember Shirley Sutton.
“This is the second year we’ve been running this program at the Edmonds Center for the Arts,” said Donnie Griffin, Lift Every Voice Legacy (LEVL) founder and the driving force behind Monday’s programs. “Last year’s attendance at our morning program was a little more than 500, but this year we’ve filled every chair in ECA’s 700-seat auditorium with an overflow of folks standing in the back. It’s really exciting. It shows that the community has a need and we’re filling it.”
The morning program was named “Our Beloved Community” to reflect its focus on community involvement and participation. Accordingly, the predominantly young performers included the 206 Drummers, the Edmonds United Methodist Church Joyful Noise Choir, Northside STEP, the Kaleidoscope Dance Company, the Mariner Afro-Fusion and Step Team, the Mosaic Dance Company, student vocal soloists Natasha Thompson and Unathi Machyo, poet Christian Paige, audience participation leader Anna Mansbridge, and more. The program was not limited to stage, but also included interactive art displays, coloring and reading spaces and other activities throughout the ECA building.
“It’s like the community stood up and said ‘We’re taking this place over for the day,’” laughed Griffin.
The real work of organizing the morning program fell to Edmonds resident and community activist Courtney Wooten, who has collaborated with Griffin on LEVL’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances since the beginning. For the second year in a row, she helped arrange and schedule the acts, and provided the necessary help, encouragement and nurturing to the young performers.
“Donnie’s original vision was to have an evening program,” Wooten said. “But the more we talked about it, the more we realized we needed a community-focused youth program that would give young people the chance to say what they need to say and bring their message to the wider community.
“It’s a big challenge doing a youth program,” she added. “Many of our performers have never been on stage before. Today we have a team of more than 100 performers and volunteers who came together to make this happen.”
Morning program premier and major sponsors included the Group Health Foundation, the Edmonds Center for the Arts, the Lift Every Voice Legacy, the Edmonds United Methodist Church, the Edmonds Diversity Commission and the Communities of Color Coalition.
The evening program, called “Be the Light,” kicked off at 7:30 p.m. and featured composer, conductor and gospel-jazz vocalist Dr. Stephen Newby, who performed and narrated his Symphony #1, written in honor of Dr. King. Joining Newby for the evening agenda were special guests Josephine Howell, Phillip Ferrell, Nichole Eskridge, Dr. Joy Jones and dancers from the Barclay Shelton Dance Centre and Price Arts Dance Co.
Highlighting the evening was the presentation of the Lift Every Voice Legacy Beloved Community Award to community activist, youth empowerment program manager, college administrator and former Lynnwood City Councilmember Shirley Sutton in recognition of her years of service to the community.
“While Ms. Sutton fell short of winning a second term for the Lynnwood City Council last year, those who know her well also know her work for inspiring a Beloved Community — neighborly love, reconciliation and redemption — is far from done,” said Griffin. “She is a humble and unselfish role model for all of us in our aspiration to live in a community that rises above the social, spiritual and political divisions that negatively affect our well-being.”
Former State Senator Maralyn Chase presented Sutton with the award.
“Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share the wealth of the earth,” Chase said. “In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated. Racism in all its forms, discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. Shirley Sutton believes in and practices equality and inclusion in her professional and private life. She works for social change and the elimination of barriers that block individuals from reaching their goals. It is my honor to present the Beloved Community Award to my friend and sister, a true drum major for justice, the Honorable Shirley Sutton.”
The evening was capped off with additional performances by Newby and others.
Griffin and the organizers expressed hope that this day of tribute to Dr. King will serve as the starting point to a continuing effort to inspire a Beloved Community in South Snohomish and North King Counties. Learn more at www.facebook.com/lifteveryvoicelegacy.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel