2018 MLK at Mt. Zion a celebration of the fight against violence — and a standing ovation for the first Black woman to lead Seattle Police

The deadliest weapon in 2018? Hateful rhetoric. What does non-violence mean in Trump’s America? Seattle writer Ijeoma Oluo deconstructed and rebuilt the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. in her keynote Friday in front of dignitaries and city officials at the 45th annual MLK celebration at 19th and Madison’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

“Those who position themselves as allies to Dr. King’s commitment to non-violence must join us in our commitment to fight the fights of a discriminatory justice system, to fight the racial violence of our medical system, to fight the violence of systemic poverty, to fight the violence of erasure,” Oluo said inside the Central District house of worship home to one of the area’s largest Black congregations. “And to fight the violence,” she continued, “of taking on the loving heroes and community leaders and reducing them to little more than a speech about a dream in order to further diminish us all.”

Oluo was joined in the 2018 edition of the annual event sponsored by the Seattle Colleges system by emcee Essex Porter of KIRO, and speakers including Congressman Adam Smith, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Durkan’s brief speech struck a spiritual tone. “God is not yet done with MLK, Jr. or we would not be here,” the newly elected mayor exclaimed from the pulpit stage, encouraging the crowd of Mt. Zion parishioners, Seattle Colleges employees, students, city officials, and community members to think of MLK’s legacy not as history but as part of the future.

Seattle’s 2018 MLK events marking the slain civil rights leader’s birthday included Friday’s annual event at Mt. Zion and will conclude Monday with the 36th annual MLK Seattle Celebration and March from Garfield High School.

36th Annual MLK Seattle Celebration

Meanwhile, it’s been a tumultuous few years for the 125-year-old and counting Mt. Zion after infighting over church property sales led to the resignation of Rev. Aaron Williams. Friday, the congregation introduced its new interim pastor, Rev. James O. Stallings.

Some of the biggest applause Friday came for interim Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, the first African American woman to lead the department. “We have more in common than anything that separates us,” Best said. The chief also proudly discussed this week’s decision granting the city’s motion that its police force is now in compliance with federal requirements after a Department of Justice investigation produced findings of bias and improper use of force. Best said the move to the next phase in police reform in Seattle is “just the launching pad” and that her force is “committed to highest service level. “We know we need to have community trust,” she said.

Oluo concluded her remarks Friday telling the crowd that righteous anger and fighting back are part of MLK’s legacy of non-violence. “Continue to fight.,” she said. “Continue to work to deconstruct the every day violences that threaten those you love. And while we fight, let’s remember the love that guides us.”

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