Heeding the call of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s family, Twin Cities activists and organizations will honor his legacy by dedicating the 36th annual holiday to fighting for voting rights legislation.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the focus locally and nationally is the passage of the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, which the House passed Thursday. It awaits a vote in the Senate, where Republicans are expected to block it. The legislation would make Election Day a national holiday and expand voting access while restoring key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Supporters say it would create a legacy as lasting as King's, who would be 93 today.
The Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association's "93 Strong" campaign is bringing together dozens of businesses, organizations and individuals who champion equal rights in voting, heeding the words of King's oldest son, Martin Luther King III, who is saying "no celebration without legislation," to urge the advancement of voting rights without letting a filibuster stand in the way.
King had called the filibuster a "tragedy" for allowing a minority of senators to block voting rights legislation for a majority of Americans.
Newly elected Minneapolis Council Member Jason Chavez will speak at Powderhorn Park Monday morning in honor of MLK Jr., who he said "led the pathway for people like me to be elected on the City Council to now fight for human rights, housing justice and making sure everybody has a seat at the table."
"I represent a community that has oftentimes not had a seat at the table, whether they're undocumented or immigrants that can't vote. And I've seen the way that elected officials oftentimes ignore them because of the ability to not vote," Chavez said.
Programming for Monday's event hosted by the Powderhorn association — which has reached capacity for in-person attendance but is available via livestream — will focus on education and advocacy surrounding voting equity, a theme at other MLK Jr. events in the Twin Cities.
"I think it sends a strong message of centering and focusing on something that is bigger than all of us," Chavez said. "You'll see that everybody across the aisle [Monday] is going to talk about MLK Jr. And in order to actually honor his legacy, this is something we actually have to do. Words aren't enough anymore."
Black leaders in Minnesota also emphasized the need to take action beyond the ballot.
At MLK Now 2022, a daylong event Saturday in Minneapolis, August H. Nimtz, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, recalled being turned away from a poll in 1964 in New Orleans because of a minor oversight on his registration form.
"The passage of the Voting Rights Act was not sufficient," Nimtz said. "Four years later, I was able to vote, and why was that? Because we had been in the streets. If people can't vote, they can't vote for the right to vote."
The focus of activism for King's official birthday holiday was to demand action on federal voting rights legislation to strike down state-level GOP laws recently enacted in the name of election security that could restrict voting.
But panelists Saturday urged Black people to unite, organize and support Black-owned businesses in order to achieve power and equality. The daylong event, featuring speakers and a large indoor market for Black vendors, was sponsored by BOB Rewards Club, a nonprofit that supports Black-owned businesses.
"We're going to have to put ourselves, our lives on the line," said panelist Jerrell Perry, a community activist and 2021 Minneapolis mayoral candidate. "I can't sit back and hope that things are going to change."
In a program called Changing Policy Community Forum moderated by Dawn Stevens, an anchor on Fox 9 TV, six panelists discussed a famous King quote and how best to address its challenges.
"We must recognize that we can't solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power," King told the staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967. "This means a revolution of values and other things."
Although Black politicians typically rely on support from the Democratic party, some panelists advocated action outside the party system.
"The Democratic Party has done nothing for us," said Umar Johnson, a school psychologist and author who founded the Frederick Douglass Marcus Garvey Academy in Wilmington, Del. "I'm advocating we divest from both plantations," he said, referring to the two major parties.
Keynote speaker of the UNCF breakfast, CNN host Laura Coates, over the weekend called out the hypocrisy of President Joe Biden and Democrats on the promise of equity.
"... There's been frustration about waiting in vain to be treated like you count," Coates said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR DAY CELEBRATION
Hosted by Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association
Monday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Links to YouTube and Facebook at ppna.org