Just before 8 a.m. this morning, gospel singer Darnell Davis sang, “We need to move forward” to the crowd of 2,000 at the 24th annual Martin Luther King Holiday Breakfast at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
That was the overarching theme of the morning’s “Reimagine the Future” breakfast, and throughout the two-hour program speakers implored the largely African-American crowd to move beyond the prevailing racism and inequality gaps in education and income that grips America and, in the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “Let freedom ring.”
Equal parts tent revival, pep fest, history lesson and political rally, the uplifting breakfast attracted an impressive roomful of thought leaders and politicos, including Gov Mark Dayton, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and her predecessor, R.T. Rybak, and keynote speaker and veteran Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile, all determined to take on the most pressing and daunting issues of the day, including poverty, voting rights, racism, the unemployment rate and the ongoing redefinition of civil rights.
“My friends, as Dr. King said, the fierce urgency of now is upon us,” said Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the UNCF, the nation’s largest provider of scholarships and other educational support to African-American students and a leading advocate of college readiness. “For far too many young people who depend on us, we are on the brink of being too late. It is their futures that we are reimagining.”
Brazile told tales of growing up in the South and about how she becoming politicized at the age of eight, when King was murdered. After draping a black scarf across her home’s door, she woke up the following morning and wondered aloud, “What can I do?” Then and there, Brazile decided to go door-to-door and register her neighborhood to vote, and cited it as but one example of King’s lasting legacy as an inspiration to get involved, be informed, and pay it forward.
The speakers were eloquent and the gospel music was soul-stirring, but in the end the it was the words of King himself – piped in over the house PA and writ large on big screens throughout the morning – that resonated with the most timeless and timely messages, such as, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
Per the breakfast’s tradition, the program concluded with a rousing singalong of “Happy Birthday” to King, and then the thousands of business leaders, politicians, activists, organizers, and everyday Twin Citians shuffled off into the blustery Minnesota morning and other MLK Day events, inspired anew to do his good work.