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Spreading the dream

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As the keynote speaker for the Medford Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, Marvin Woodard leaned on a few of the things he knows best: call-and-response, community-building and basketball.

"Today when I'm talking to you, I'm talking to you as potential King dream team members," he said to the crowd partially filling the auditorium at Central Medford High School. He used the same cues to clap in response to his words that he has his basketball players do to engage the audience throughout his talk.

Medford's annual celebration of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated 51 years ago, rang with a call to action. Participants were consistently reminded of three simple but sometimes perplexingly difficult challenges: to stand up, to step up and to speak up to make a community more welcoming for everyone.

King's words from his 1967 "But If Not" sermon given at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta reminded the attendees of what is at stake when people are silent in the face of injustices:

"You may be 38 years old as I happen to be, and one day some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause -- and you refuse to do it because you are afraid.

"You refuse to do it because you want to live longer; you're afraid that you will lose your job, or you're afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you're afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house, and so you refuse to take the stand. Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you're just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90! And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit."

For some at the event, taking up the mantle of social justice or civil rights advocacy might have been a new or brief consideration. But for many of the community members who spoke, sang or stood to be recognized, that work is familiar, often unnoticed and ever-ongoing.

Woodard would be counted among the second group of those present. He first came to work at Southern Oregon University’s multicultural resource center in 2001 and was hired as the center’s coordinator in 2016.

He has helped oversee the university’s Black Student Union and worked with other community organizers of color to hold different kinds of cultural competency training, including volunteering with local equity, diversity and inclusion trainer Gloria Montenegro-Fix.

D.L. Richardson, a civil rights scholar, former professor and now the equity coordinator for the Ashland and Medford school districts, spoke in a video and briefly onstage. The previous year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Geneva Craig, who marched with King in Selma, Alabama in March 1965, was also recognized.

The spotlight was not cast exclusively on the past and present struggle to create a more equitable society, however. At times during the afternoon, the main purpose was fun — a celebration of varying ethnic groups’ cultures through performance.

North Medford High School’s Pacific Islander Student Association brought color, music and motion to the stage with two dance routines, and Tyrone Casteal performed a poem he wrote called “Stand Free.”

John Almaguer, a local immigration attorney, said that Sunday’s event was perhaps more hopeful than those that he remembered from recent years.

“People were able to mesh with the message,” he said. “The tone was more hopeful than I’ve seen in a while.”

The underlying themes running a common thread through the performances and presentations echoed the language King used in his “I Have a Dream” speech. Presenters spoke of accountability, seeing those who look or speak or act differently as your own family and refusing to keep your seat in the face of injustice.

“Today is a great day to become part of the King’s dream team,” said Woodard to the crowd. “Today is a great day to recognize that we all have a role and we all have strengths that we can bring (to) bear to this particular mission. We just have to be brave enough to have the courage to stand up, step up and speak up.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

North Medford High Pacific Islander Student Association performs at the Medford City Celebration of Dr Martin Luther King Jr at the Central High Auditorium on Sunday, January 20, 2019.(PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR)
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