Despite frigid temperatures, hundreds of local residents gathered Monday to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It was the 44th year that the local community has celebrated the life and message of the slain civil rights leader.
The annual celebration in Anderson started four years before President Ronald Reagan signed legislation making the third Monday in January a national holiday in King's honor.
The program Monday at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Anderson included performances by the Anderson University and community choir and a group of Anderson Elementary School second-grade students.
Junifer Hall, the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Katie Hall, related how her mother, the first African American elected to Congress from Indiana, worked to have a national holiday declared to honor Dr. King.
Keynote speaker Gina Forrest looked back on King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech and talked about how much further Indiana and the nation needs to move forward to achieve equality and justice for all Americans.
She said the original title for the speech was “Normalcy Never Again.”
There are times we don’t want to go back to normal,” Forrest said. “We need to challenge the norm.”
She said the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence did not truly believe that all men are created equal.
Forest noted that the first slaves were brought to America in the 1600s and the Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed until 1776.
“That is a lot of years of hate,” she said. “Some of these things have not changed. We’re not where we want to be.”
Forrest said she would avoid driving through certain parts of Indiana and noted that the Ku Klux Klan still has a strong presence in the state.
“We need you to join the groups fighting for equality for all,” Forrest urged the crowd of about 500. “My hope is that we can talk to each other. I want to see Indiana be an oasis for freedom and justice.”
She pointed out that Black people comprise just 10% of Indiana’s population.
“We need help to move the needle,” Forrest said, noting the state's high Black infant mortality rate and poor overall standing in health outcomes.
“Vote for freedom and justice,” she said. “We need your voice to be heard.”
Forrest said change can take place overnight and that it shouldn't take 60 years to make progress.
“We can choose to have a better life, be more inclusive and welcoming,” she said. “Challenge the status quo and ask why we’re doing things.”
Anderson Mayor Thomas Broderick Jr. said the community should work together to move forward.
“Dr. King’s life and legacy continues,” Broderick said. “Remember it’s not just one special day, but it’s important we live by the words of Dr. King every day.
“We need to embrace everyone and work together for the betterment of all.”
This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.