January 21, 2013
Nearly every seat in the Carver Recreation Center at the Jefferson School Center was occupied this morning in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday, praising his character. Two men who played a vital role in today's celebration also lived through the civil rights movement here in Charlottesville.
Martin Luther King Jr. Would have turned 84 this year but instead, many celebrate and remember King for his lasting impact.
Mr. Alex-Zan said, "It's a day of doing, of helping one another, coming together, unifying, talking to one another, and, just making where we are today just a better place to live in."
Alex-Zan was a part of the Charlottesville Twelve which was the first group of African American students to be integrated into the city's public school system in 1959. "Charlottesville like any other city has a history of desegregation, integration and it's come a long ways but of course we all know that we have a long way to go," said Alex-Zan.
Reflecting on the past, Van Johnson from Charlottesville Park and Recreation acknowledges how far society has come, but says King's energy must live on. "I remember when I was younger," said Johnson, "my first time going to the movies. I went to the Jefferson Theater on the Downtown Mall. I went in through the front door and the man told me you are not allowed to go through the front." He continued, " If the bus is there we don't have to go to the back. We can ride in the front. So, progress has been made but we have to keep striving to keep the progress in order to not let things slip back."
While times may be different, both Alex-Zan and Johnson say children are a vital part in the future of King's history.
Alex-Zan commented, "It's going to be the children that are going to carry on the legacy of Dr. King."
Johnson said, "It's a different kind of fight today. It's not the same kind of fight. We need to tell the kids where we were and where we are now."
Johnson hopes the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration held at the Jefferson School Center will be an annual event in the years to come.