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Lansing MLK Day Event To Feature Talk With Bernice King

Commission Chair Elaine Hardy and Dr. Bernice King
Dr. Martin Luther King Commission of Mid-Michigan
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The celebration will feature a conversation between Commission Chair, Elaine Hardy (L) and Dr. Bernice King (R)

Martin Luther King Jr. Day falls on January 18 this year.

To honor his legacy, the Dr. Martin Luther King Commission of Mid-Michigan for decades has held an annual luncheon in Lansing featuring speakers ranging from civil rights heroes to lawmakers.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, the commission will be putting on its annual day of celebration as a televised program on WILX, rather than an in-person event.

WKAR’s Sophia Saliby spoke with the chair of the commission, Elaine Hardy, about the event.

Interview Highlights

On Why  Dr. Bernice King Was Selected As This Year’s Featured Speaker

Any person on any King Commission would love to have the daughter of our iconic leader and our namesake. And because she is a civil rights and social justice advocate in her own right, we believe that her voice, at this time, should be amplified. I have said so, and I've actually said this to Dr. King, when I spoke with her that I feel like her voice in this movement needs to be amplified. She has such a unique perspective as who I call the bridge between the two movements, the new civil rights movement and the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s.

On How To Give Back In Honor Of The Holiday

I always push back with regard to the thought that it is that day of service. Dr. King, if he taught us anything, is that he taught us that we should serve our fellow man every day, that that should be an actively engaged part of our life. For us to look at the plight of someone who may be disenfranchised, who may not have a voice, and that we step in as a servant to that individual. And so, I just challenge people to every day, find ways that they can give back to their community.

On If The Country Is Moving Towards A Positive Direction With Racial Justice

I will tell you that I believe that America is on the precipice, and she can do what Dr. King said she could do. She could either become a community of brothers, or we can descend into chaos. And I feel that the new civil rights movement, the protests for social and economic justice, are going to continue because I believe that, as Americans, we have to hold America accountable for the ideals that she espouses, for what she says she is. And the only way that we can do that is to demand redress from the grievance if it's not that way. The way that brown communities are policed in America, we have to address it.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby. Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. To honor his legacy, the Dr. Martin Luther King Commission of Mid-Michigan for decades has held an annual luncheon in Lansing featuring speakers ranging from civil rights heroes to lawmakers.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year, the commission will be putting on its annual day of celebration as a televised program on WILX, rather than an in-person event.

Elaine Hardy is the chair of the commission. She joins me now. Thanks for being here.

Elaine Hardy: Thank you for having me, Sophia.

Saliby: What will be different about the commission's celebration of the holiday this year?

Hardy: As you mentioned in your intro, we won't be gathered at the Lansing Center with 2,200 of our closest friends, but we have an opportunity to actually reach a broader audience with the legacy of Dr. King by it being a broadcast television show.

Saliby: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter, Bernice King, is this year's featured speaker for the commission's Day of Celebration. Why did you choose her to be this year's guest speaker?

She has such a unique perspective as who I call the bridge between the two movements, the new civil rights movement and the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s.

Hardy: Any person on any King Commission would love to have the daughter of our iconic leader and our namesake. And because she is a civil rights and social justice advocate in her own right, we believe that her voice, at this time, should be amplified.

I have said so, and I've actually said this to Dr. King, when I spoke with her that I feel like her voice in this movement needs to be amplified. She has such a unique perspective as who I call the bridge between the two movements, the new civil rights movement and the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s. And I feel like her voice is so relevant and so needed at this time.

Dr. Bernice King
Credit Dr. Martin Luther King Commission of Mid-Michigan
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Bernice King will be this year's featured speaker at the Commission's celebration.

So, we are elated to have her as our featured speaker. We did a different format, so she won't be delivering a keynote. We'll actually be having a conversation with her, and she spent a lot of time talking with us about the work of the King Center, and really about, surprisingly, Coretta Scott King, and how she has named her mother, the architect of the King legacy. So, I'm excited for people to tune in and hear her talk about that.

Saliby: Martin Luther King Jr. Day has become a day of service for some. We have to be socially distanced this year because of the pandemic, but do you have any ideas for how people can give back to their communities given all this?

Hardy: I always push back with regard to the thought that it is that day of service. Dr. King, if he taught us anything, is that he taught us that we should serve our fellow man every day, that that should be an actively engaged part of our life. For us to look at the plight of someone who may be disenfranchised, who may not have a voice, and that we step in as a servant to that individual.

I always encourage individuals to take the day of MLK Day to center themselves, so that they can go out for a year of service.

And so, I just challenge people to every day, find ways that they can give back to their community. And one of the first things that people can do is to continue to use their vote to make change in our democracy, to find ways that you can go out and serve people who have food insecurity, or who may be suffering from homelessness.

I always encourage individuals to take the day of MLK Day to center themselves, so that they can go out for a year of service.

Saliby: This past year, we saw a summer of protests demanding an end to systemic racism following the police killing of George Floyd. In the six months since then, do you think our country has moved in a positive direction towards racial justice and what still needs to change?

Hardy: So, we have been grappling with this idea of racism since our country's inception. And a lot of us believe that, you know, in the post-Obama era, some people dared to call us a post-racial society. And people in the social justice movement, people in the Black community, knew that that was not the case. That there has been in America, this underbelly and undercurrent of racism that we have to deal with. Racism is systemic; it is in our structures.

And one of the things that this summer of protest laid bare for us is that we have not dealt with that original sin. We have not dealt with the original sin of racism or slavery, and what it has done and perpetuated in our society.

I will tell you that I believe that America is on the precipice, and she can do what Dr. King said she could do. She could either become a community of brothers, or we can descend into chaos.

And so, do I believe that America is in a better place? I will tell you that I believe that America is on the precipice, and she can do what Dr. King said she could do. She could either become a community of brothers, or we can descend into chaos. And I feel that the new civil rights movement, the protests for social and economic justice, are going to continue because I believe that, as Americans, we have to hold America accountable for the ideals that she espouses, for what she says she is. And the only way that we can do that is to demand redress from the grievance if it's not that way.

The way that brown communities are policed in America, we have to address it. There's no more, you know, talking about, "They're isolated incidences. [It doesn't] happen in every community." Police brutality and police injustice towards Black and brown communities happen all over this country, and we have to grapple with that. We have to do something about that. 

Saliby: Well, thank you so much for sharing. Elaine Hardy is the chairperson of the Dr. Martin Luther King Commission of Mid-Michigan. I appreciate you being here.

Hardy: Thank you for your time.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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