‘When Love Changes Things’: A heartfelt community tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During Monday night’s event, Theresita Richard — a dancer, transformational leader, culture catalyst and coach — performs interpretive dance to the music of “Mr. Love.”

A program of inspirational music, dance, readings and moving first-person stories of how the power of love has changed lives capped off a full day of tributes at the Edmonds Waterfront Center Monday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy.

Part of the fifth annual tribute to Dr. King sponsored by the Edmonds-based Lift Every Voice Legacy (LEVL), the event attracted more than 250 to the Waterfront Center main ballroom.

The Greater Everett MLK Celebration Ensemble kicks off the program with a rendition of “Love.”

The event began with a rendition of Love by the Greater Everett MLK Celebration Ensemble, followed by a greeting from the co-hosts — LEVL Founder and President Donnie Griffin and mental health expert, teacher and author Richard Taylor.

“This is our first year at the Waterfront Center,” remarked Griffin, “and we wanted to do something a little different, more intimate than our previous events at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. We’re here tonight to bring the message of love and hope as espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to everyone, and the theme of our program tonight is ‘When Love Changes Things’.”

Co-hosts Richard Taylor (L) and Donnie Griffin welcome participants.
Salish woodcarver Ty Juvinel and his daughter give the land blessing.

Griffin and Taylor then invited Native American woodcarver Ty Juvinel, whose welcoming figure graces the Waterfront Center’s main entrance, to the podium to officiate in the land blessing.

Taking the podium, co-host Richard Taylor launched into an account of his personal journey marked by deep feelings of inadequacy, drug use and self-destructive thoughts and behavior. He went on to describe how he found new purpose in life sparked by a person named Quincy — some that Taylor did not know  personally, but who reached out to him with love and caring. This spark led to connecting with others who could help Taylor and began what would be a long journey to the place he is in today. He learned how to “love the unlovable,” which ultimately put him in a place where he can reach out to others as Quincy had reached out to him.

“Is this the love that is needed to spread change in our lives?” he asked. “My challenge to you tonight is to take this step, don’t pass judgment, reach out with love, learn to love the unlovable, and ask yourselves the question, “if this is the love that will change things?”

Singer Josephine Howell performs Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today.”
Performers from the Barclay-Shelton Dance Studio dance to Emile Sande’s “Family.”

Taylor’s message was followed by a heartfelt rendition of Stevie Wonder’s Love’s in Need of Love Today by vocalist Josephine Howell, backed up by the Josephine Howell Band and the Greater Everett MLK Celebration Ensemble, and a dance program by the Barclay-Shelton Dance Center dancers to the tune of Emeli Sande’s Family.

Next to the podium was keynote speaker Leilani Miller, executive director of Everett’s Millennia Ministries, who shared the story of her transformative journey out of hate and into love. This ultimately brought her to a physical and emotional place where she can help provide the spark to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Keynote speaker Leilani Miller provided an intensely personal story of her journey from hate to love.

She related how the seeds of hate were planted early in her life by the prejudice and discrimination she felt as a child.

“At first, these made me wonder why white people hated us so much because our skin was a different color and it seemed that everywhere I went my skin color was a problem for white people,” she said. “But as the years went by, this grew in me to where I did not like white people, and I did not like religion. Hate had taken root in my life.”

Her turning point came 20 years later. “I began to remember some things my grandmother told me” about church, Miller said, including the love and laughter she found there as a child, and specifically how her grandmother believed that God protected her. Now a mother herself, Miller’s love for her children prompted her to reach out to her mother’s old church and ask how she might get her children baptized, and thereby gain that protection for them. And her hate began to be replaced by love.

This was the first step on a path to seeing the power of love in changing lives, and it  ultimately led her her current work through Millennium Ministries, helping women who are raising children on their own.

Suni Tolton, diversity and inclusion coordinator for the City of Shoreline, accepts her Beloved Community Award.
Kurt and Craig Campbell, owners of Edmonds’ Campbell Auto Group, accept their Beloved Community Award in recognition of their more than 20 years partnering with organizations working with underserved communities.

The next part of the program was the presentation of two Beloved Community Awards. The first went to Suni Tolton, diversity and inclusion coordinator for the City of Shoreline, in recognition of her work with underserved populations in her city. The next went to Kurt and Craig Campbell, owners of Edmonds’ Campbell Auto Group, for their more than 20 years of partnering with nonprofits providing an array of services to those in need.

Mayor Mike Nelson and wife Erica were on hand for the event.
On display in the lobby was a poster and collage made earlier in the day by children who participated in the LEVL morning program.

The evening concluded with Griffin and Taylor acknowledging all the work by the volunteers that helped make the evening possible, after which Josephine Howell and her band invited the audience to join in for a rousing rendition of This Little Light of Mine.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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