By Morgan Bryce and Kendyl
Hundreds of people packed into the Opelika Performing Arts Center Monday for the 19th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Day Program, presented by the Dream Day Foundation.
The ceremony served as an expression of gratitude to King, who is regarded by historians as one of the most impactful leaders of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 60s.
Rev. Clifford Jones of Jeter Avenue’s Greater Peace Baptist Church opened the event with an invocation, before the crowd joined together in singing the Black American National Anthem, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’.
During the program, actors portraying modern-day black celebrities Steve Harvey, Taraji P. Henson and Tyra Banks introduced fellow Civil Rights leaders, friends and family of King and Barack and Michelle Obama as they walked down a red carpet.
The program concluded with the recognition of the 2018 Dream Achiever Recipient, Barbara Pitts. Known locally as the ‘Queen of Voter Registration’, Pitts was selected based on her contributions to the local Civil Rights movement and her efforts to increase voter participation in the Opelika-Auburn community.
Previous award recipients and members of the Dream Hallelujah Choir led a foot-stomping rendition of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’ to close the program, before the crowd dismissed for a birthday-cake social.
Event attendees Mattie Fort and Robbin Reed said the program served as a powerful reminder of King’s legacy and contributions toward making America a place where all people are treated equally.
“This day represents happiness, freedom and that we have came a long way. The program exemplifies what has gone on through the years, and all the people that have contributed to this great day that we covered with Martin Luther King because he was the forefront person that gave it the beginning, so we are just so happen to celebrate his birthday today,” Fort said.
“This is (a) great celebration for his 89th birthday. I’m so pleased and honored that I was able to attend,” Reed said. “Just to see Martin Luther King’s vision, we’re still trying to make it come to life, and it’s a very important part of our lives here, especially in 2018.”