- Jason Vondersmith
- Portland Tribune - Features
Pledge to be better people inspired by Civil Rights leader is written 'in your anatomy'
While attending Martin Luther King Elementary School, Tiara Orr and her classmates used to pledge allegiance to, and recite an excerpt from the great civil rights leader every morning:
Today, I will do my best to be my best.
I will listen.
I will follow instruction.
I will be honest.
I will respect the rights of others.
I am unlimited.
If it is to be, it's up to me.
I can learn, I will learn.
At King School, the dream is alive.
At 20, she can still recite it.
'We would say it every morning,' she says. 'It's written in your anatomy.'
Orr and many others will celebrate Dr. King on Monday, Jan. 18, the official Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday across the nation.
Orr, a junior nursing student at Concordia University, will be among about 1,200 college students from 11 schools gathering at Concordia in north Portland, and then boarding buses to visit job sites across the city - one of many such local celebrations going on in the Rose City.
Mayor Sam Adams and Concordia President Chuck Schlimpert will be part of the festivities that start at 8 a.m. on the Concordia campus. And, to Orr's delight, the King Elementary school choir will perform.
'I love this holiday,' says Orr, a Portland native and 2007 Benson High grad. 'My roots are at Martin Luther King Elementary, where I realized how important this celebration is - not just for black Americans, but cross-culturally. It's a way to celebrate our history and share with other people.'
Orr also works with Oregon Diversity Network, which teaches children and teenagers freedom songs and different aspects of the civil rights movement.
Like many college students, Orr has read much about Dr. King. She and fellow students talk about Dr. King, but also of the civil rights movement and all of the individuals involved in it - black and white.
'What strikes me the most is how he was able to continue his activism - nonviolent activism - when his house was getting bombed and his children were in danger,' she says. 'He was sacrificing his life for the vision that he had that was so big.
'Not many people liked him, and not just white people (disliked him), even some African-Americans from stirring things up in Alabama. Through trials and tribulations, he fought for freedom.'
It's important to keep the message going, she adds. 'Traditionally, you hear older generations telling you what happened,' Orr says. 'It's important to let younger generations know so the story goes on, so we can appreciate what happened.'
Indeed, it was 41 years ago that Dr. King was slain, and the holiday in his name bears witness to the civil rights movement he helped lead.
As a young African-American woman, Orr lives in a country where things have changed since Dr. King marched the streets of Washington, D.C., and proclaimed, 'I have a dream …' at the Washington Monument.
Older generations are dying, she says, and with them go age-old racism and stereotypes.
'The generations living are thinking more, and they're more open to learning about other cultures,' Orr says. 'We have a black president. That is an amazing turnaround.
'I don't think we're past the race issue completely, I don't know if we'll ever be. But we're more open-minded as far as an American society.'
More than 100 University of Portland students will be involved in Monday's gathering at Concordia, which was organized through Oregon Campus Contact, Hands On, United Way and 11 different colleges.
'It's a big thing for the community, showing that college students want to serve,' says Alyssa Schmidt-Carr, vice president of Associated Students of the University of Portland. 'Two years ago, ASUP passed a resolution to have some kind of service day on MLK Day. We were really excited when this came up.'
Here's a listing of some other Martin Luther King Day celebrations across the city:
• MLK Weekend of Service - Sponsored by the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, it focuses on 80 'done-in-a-day' service projects, Friday-Monday, Jan. 15-18 (go to www.unitedway-pdx.org/MLK for list of projects and contact information)
• 'Living The Dream' - Vancouver Avenue 1st Baptist Church will put on its fourth annual ecumenical service and awards presentation, 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, 3138 N. Vancouver Ave. (keynote speaker is Oregon Attorney General John Kroger)
• Washington County MLK Day - Put on by the Inter-religious Action Network, 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, Cedar Hills United Church of Christ, 11695 Park Way, Portland
• 'I Have a Dream' - The Portland Children's Museum welcomes service organizations, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18, 4015 S.W. Canyon Road (regular museum admission)
• 'Keep The Dream Alive' - The World Arts Foundation's 25th annual celebration, 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18, Highland Center, 7600 N.E. Glisan St., (contact Ken Berry, 503-816-9001)
• 'King: A Filmed Record' - A screening of the 1971 film, 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18, Clinton Street Theater, 2522 S.E. Clinton St., $6, $5 students, $3 kids (12 and younger)