Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964
January 4, 2014 10:10:40 PM
"If you look at where we are today and we try to make plans for where we will go tomorrow, you have to remember how you got to where you are," said Learnard Dickerson. With the Rev. Tony Montgomery and Lavonne Harris, he is a co-founder of Dream 365, a now week-long commemoration in Columbus of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"If we don't take time to view that, we're doing a disservice to those who have paid the price -- some even laying down their lives -- that allows us to have what we have today. We are all the generation of the dream, whether we're black or white."
Dream 365 began in 2005 and has earned a reputation as one of the largest and most prominent MLK celebrations in the state and region. It has several times been named a Southeast Tourism Society's Top 20 Events for January. This year, organizers are making an even deeper footprint. The 2014 observance will encompass a full week Jan. 13-20, with events designed to inspire, educate and entertain. Many of them are free.
Jan. 13: 50 years forward
Dream 365 kicks off on the evening of Jan. 13 with the exhibit "Birmingham: The Movement That Changed the World" and a reception at the Rosenzweig Arts Center at 501 Main St. in Columbus. Exclusive records, artifacts and photos in this display commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham civil rights movement tell of the best and worst humanity had to offer at the height of events leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"We've been going after that exhibit for three years; it's only made its way to Mississippi a few times, so we're very fortunate to get it here," said Dickerson.
The exhibit is presented by the City of Birmingham, the Columbus Arts Council, Dream 365 and the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. It will be in Columbus through the end of January.
"This is probably one of the biggest things we've had in the whole time we've put on Dream 365," Dickerson remarked. "It's really being brought here as a result of the hard work and diligence of Director Tina Sweeten from the Columbus Arts Council, at the request of Dream 365."
An artists' open call show for art with a civil rights theme will be also mounted in the CAC Artist Alley gallery. Artists can still submit pieces for the show by calling 662-328-2787.
On Jan. 13 at 3 p.m. representatives from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Mississippi Museums will talk about the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Museum of Mississippi History under construction in Jackson. The presentation in the Rosenzweig Arts Center's Omnova Theater will be followed by a Q&A session, prior to the evening's reception and exhibit. The event is free.
"The forum will instill a better understanding of this major museum project," said Nancy Carpenter, executive director of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is coordinating the program. "For instance, the new Civil Rights Museum will be the only state-funded civil rights museum in the nation."
Jan. 14: Film night
A free showing of the 2010 Emmy-winning documentary film "Freedom Riders" begins at 6 p.m. at the Rosenzweig Arts Center. Learn more about the activists called Freedom Riders who, in 1961, challenged segregation.
Jan. 15: Group tours
Student and church groups are invited to tour the "Birmingham" exhibit at the Rosenzweig Arts Center, open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments are helpful. Groups may even tour after 5 p.m., by appointment only. There is no charge. Call 662-328-2787.
Jan. 16: Youth excellence
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. host a spelling bee at 6 p.m. in Mississippi University for Women's Cochran Hall. The contest is open to sixth- through eighth-graders in Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee and Oktibbeha Counties.
Chartis Ivy is a member of the Dream 365 Committee and of Zeta Phi Beta. "Both our sorority and brother fraternity are geared toward service. We decided we wanted to take up the fight against illiteracy; we wanted to give youth something positive to do, to let them shine," she said. Learn how to enter the competition by emailing Ivy at email@example.com, or enter GTASpellingBee on Facebook.
Jan. 17: Jazz, spoken word
An evening of live jazz and poetic spoken word tributes to the civil rights era begins at 8 p.m. on the lower level of Trotter Convention Center. Tickets to this night of creative performances about culture, heritage and life are $10, available in advance at the Rosenzweig Arts Center.
Jan. 18: MLK Day of Service/Comedy Night
In conjunction with the national MLK Day of Service, the United Way Community Volunteer Center partners with Dream 365 in inviting volunteers to lend a hand at agencies such as the Boys & Girls Club, Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen, Operation Ukraine, Palmer Home and Salvation Army from 9 a.m. to noon. Pre-registration is required and is open through Jan. 15 at volunteercolumbus-ms.org, or call 662-328-0943.
"We're doing it a little differently this year," explained Leslie Peel, director of the volunteer center. "Volunteers will report directly to their selected site, where a volunteer leader will welcome them."
Laughter, good for the soul
At 8 p.m. Jan. 18, Dream 365 presents an adult entertainment HBO DEF Comedy Jam performance with comedians Steve Brown, Damon Williams and Marvin Hunter.
"Some people think Dr. King was just for church folks, but he was for everybody," said Dickerson. "What he did opened doors to the comedy industry, the movie industry ... "
Tickets are $10 (or $25 VIP), available in advance at the arts center.
Jan. 19: Gospel concert
A free 5:30 p.m. gospel concert at Trotter Convention Center features choirs, vocalists and musicians including Tamara Trippett, Armondo Adams, the Noxubee County Mass Choir, the CMFBC Praise Team and many more.
Jan. 20: Commemorative breakfast
This annual NAACP-Dream 365 signature event presents Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III as keynote speaker. The pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church of Dallas has been noted in Ebony magazine's 2012 Power 100, a list of the nation's most influential African-Americans. Among his many honors, he is a member of the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame and served as a committee member for the MLK Memorial Foundation, leading to the first African-American monument on the Washington, D.C., Mall.
"Dr. Haynes touched my life before I knew who he was," said Dickerson, describing the pastor as powerful and dynamic.
When Dickerson was a college student at Xavier University of Louisiana many years ago, someone handed him a tape of Haynes' preaching. That tape, he said, changed his life.
"I've always been a fan of who he was, and it's remarkable for a hero of mine to be coming to this event," Dickerson said, adding that Haynes is also a colleague of Dream 365 co-organizer Tony Montgomery.
Tickets to the 8:30 a.m. event at Trotter Convention Center are $15, available in advance at the arts center. Spirit and Unsung Hero Awards, Oasis of Freedom and Justice Awards and essay contest winner awards will also be presented at this Dream 365 finale event.
Moment in history
Some may say the struggles of the civil rights era are in the past, that today's concerns are different and why worry about that ugly period.
"But it's a moment in time; it's American history," Dickerson stated. "And to be able to appreciate what it is that we have, in order to move forward, you have to be able to appreciate all that people did."
Organizers are grateful for supporters like the Convention and Visitors Bureau and others who make the event possible.
"We truly appreciate all our partners and volunteers who contribute what they can in whatever fashion they can," noted Dickerson, on behalf of the entire committee. "The celebration gets bigger and more involved every year. ... We just know that what we offer to the community is something very special to us." The goal is not just to celebrate the dream of unity and hope on the federal holiday, but to live it every day.
For more information about Dream 365, go to dream365.info or contact Dickerson at 662-425-1234. Get advance tickets to events at the Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center, 501 Main St., Columbus, 662-328-2787.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.