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Celebrate Martin Luther Kings' bright tomorrows

It can take a village to throw a huge party, and Ashland is doing its 27th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in a great, big way.

“We have over 100 volunteers, food-drive coordinators and performers," says event coordinator Claudia Alick. "There is a huge list of human beings contributing to this event."

The annual tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. honors his life and legacy as a civil rights advocate, as well as the Rogue Valley community that keeps his ideas alive. There will be dance, music and celebration, but also moments to reflect on King’s words and how we as a community can connect with them.

This year's theme for the event is taken from King's words in his 1967 book and speech, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" The idea for the theme was pointed out by Ashland High School teacher Alan Parowski. The speech addresses the connections between violence, poverty and racism.

“Our theme is based on the lines, ‘Let us be dissatisfied ... and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows,’ ” Alick says. “That’s where we feel we are right now. Things aren’t where we’d like them to be, but we can use that to move on to something positive.”

The annual celebration is from noon to 1:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 18, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St. Doors open at 11:30. Admission is free, and donations of nonperishable food items will be accepted for ACCESS Food Bank.

Seating is limited and available on a first-come basis. A simulcast live stream will be presented at the Varsity Theatre, 166 E. Main St. The live stream also can be viewed online at howlround.tv.

King's leadership during America's African-American Civil Rights Movement of the '50s and '60s inspired a transformation in society toward greater dignity, compassion and justice for all people. National observance of King's birthday still invites reflection and offers communities an opportunity to be a part of further transformation, moving closer to King’s dream for the world.

Mildred and Steve Sapp of UNIVERSES will provide the keynote for the 2016 celebration. UNIVERSES is an ensemble-in-residence at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and features writers and performers who fuse poetry, theater, jazz, hip-hop, blues and more to create thought-provoking and entertaining theatrical works.

Also look for performances by OSF actors, Ashland Dance Works, Rogue World Ensemble, Brent Florendo and Dancing Spirit Talking Drum, the SOU Slam Team, Phoenix Sigalove, the Ashland Middle School Video Project, Crater Renaissance Rhythm Nation, Luminaries and more. Historian D.L. Richardson will emcee the celebration. The event and the livestream will be sign-language interpreted.

Alick says her favorite aspect of the event is the collaborative process in putting it all together. The volunteers start meeting in October — gathering over pizza donated by Martolli’s restaurant — once a week for three months to plan the event.

“A beautiful variety of human beings go into making this show,” Alick says. “We meet for about an hour, and we have wonderful, deep conversations about equity and what we care about for ourselves, our community and our country.”

Community volunteers include students and employees from the Ashland School District and Southern Oregon University, the city of Ashland, OSF, Ashland Chamber of Commerce, the Racial Equity Coalition, La Clinica and other nonprofit organizations.

One nonprofit involved in the event is the Vision Quilt project to prevent gun violence. Speakers from the project will share their work and goals. The Vision Quilt project is a grassroots organization based in Ashland that uses quilt art to foster awareness and conversations about gun violence with exhibits and workshops around the country.

Southern California-based group Luminaries — heart-driven and service-orientated hip-hop emissaries of peace — will perform at the MLK celebration, and the group will offer a full concert with rapper Marv Ellis and DJ DV8 at 7 p.m. at the Historic Ashland Armory. Tickets are $20 in advance; $25 the day of the show. See www.liveatthearmory.com.

Also at 7 p.m., Ashland Interfaith Clergy Circle will host a faith-based conversation at the Rogue Valley Unitarian Fellowship, 87 Fourth St., Ashland, entitled “Faith and Race, Creeds and Deeds: How Do People of Faith Kindle Common Fires of Justice for Bright Tomorrows?”

The Historic Ashland Armory fills to capacity each year during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. Photo courtesy of Graham Lewis