Bernice King headlines MLK Day celebration broadcast

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In lieu of a live event, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan is taking its signature MLK Day celebration to the airwaves. The one-hour program, which is headlined by a conversation between Bernice King, the youngest of King’s children, and Elaine Hardy, who chairs the commission, will air at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18, on WILX TV.

Since 2012, Bernice King has acted as CEO of the King Center, which was founded by her mother, Coretta Scott King, in 1968. Bernice King is credited with greatly expanding The King Center’s education platforms and improving its campus in Atlanta. In June, Bernice King led the “#OnlineProtest for Social Justice,” a 7-day livestream initiative in protest of systemic racism.

Hardy was overjoyed to have Bernice King onboard for the commission’s 2021 MLK Day celebration.

“She is one of the most gracious people that I have met. She was generous with her time and her thoughtful answers to our questions. She really wanted to connect with our community, it was phenomenal,” Hardy said.

Hardy said she framed the conversation so viewers could learn how Bernice King and her family would like to see the world celebrate MLK Day. Hardy described a profound moment of conversation — Bernice King explaining how Coretta Scott King foresaw the impact of Martin Luther King and insisted that his speeches be taped and the audio to be preserved. “I found it so interesting that she truly understood the moment she was in,” Hardy said.

The theme of this year’s MLK Day Celebration is based on a quote from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” Hardy said the commission selected the quote because it represents perseverance, and after the immense tribulations of 2020, people really need a healthy helping of positivity and inspiration heading into 2021.

“We believe the nation and our community need something to look forward to,” Hardy said.

2020 saw widespread political demonstrations inspired by the deaths of several Black Americans at the hands of police officers, and Hardy hopes the impact and momentum achieved by grass roots activism doesn’t subside in 2021.

“I don’t want us to lose the moment we’re in. We have the opportunity for an open and honest dialogue with ourselves,” Hardy said. “It was laid bare for us that racial discrimination is still alive and well in this post-Obama era. It is incumbent upon all of us to look at systemic structures that uphold white supremacy and call them out.”

Hardy said condensing what’s normally a two-hour plus live event into an hour-long television program was a challenge that required the wrangling of several moving parts. The program also features a performance from a symphony, surprise guest appearances, messages from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin and special announcements from the MLK Commission and its sponsors.

“Our biggest challenge is capturing that energy. There’s something very special about the MLK Day holiday in our community,” Hardy said.

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