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'Let us be dissatisfied'

Echoing the mood of the country, Ashland’s 27th celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day carried the theme “Let us be dissatisfied” — words originally spoken by King a year before his 1968 assassination and which resounded Monday through Ashland’s packed Historic Armory in call-and-response fashion.

Old spirituals alternated with edgy, sometimes defiant rap, hip-hop and talk-song mashups tapping into the message that while the country has come a long way since the civil rights victories of half a century ago, mountains remain to be climbed. 

“Let us be dissatisfied,” said D.L. Richardson, longtime emcee of the overflow event. “Let us transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.” 

King did what he did, not to be celebrated one day a year, said Richardson, but to change lives every day of the year and to remind people that “God made all men to dwell together on the face of the Earth.” 

The King quotes came from a 1967 speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King, the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. His birthday became a national holiday in 1983. He would be 87 now. 

The performances ended with the classic “We Shall Overcome,” sung in a plaintive solo by Phoenix Sigalove, then by the entire crowd of hundreds, while holding hands. 

Plain Folk from Rogue World Ensemble sang “Ride on King Jesus” in traditional spiritual style. DanceWorks did a passionate performance of “Glory.” 

The ensemble UNIVERSES, which came from New York but is now in residence at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, painted a stirring voice-song musical landscape climaxing with King’s famed comment, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” 

The Dancing Spirit Talking Drum, a native American ensemble, did sixth-grader Ace Wright’s celebration of dancing itself — including tribal and hip-hop, shouting out his vision of being able to dance around the world and to dance for all those who can’t dance. 

Ashland Middle School students produced a video, peppering the screen with encouraging comments and quotes, including King’s “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” 

“If you love someone, let them know it,” echoed Richardson, a historian and former Southern Oregon University professor. He asked many notables in the audience to stand, then invited everyone who is contributing to society to stand. Almost everyone did. 

He also reminded all those gathered that when they don’t vote, it’s not someone else taking away that right, but them. 

The free event’s chief sponsor was the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, with scores of other organizations and businesses contributing. All work on the show is volunteer. The Varsity Theatre showed the event simultaneously for those unable to get into the live show. It was also live on RVTV and streamed live on the web.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Briawna Jackson dances around singers Jade Chavis Watt, left, Britney Simpson, and Carolina Morones during their performance of Kamilah Long’s 'Trouble of the World' Monday during Ashland's annual celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Mail Tribune/ Denise Baratta