Black Lives Matter co-founder to speak at M.L. King Day celebration

In this March 21, 1965, photo, Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights marchers cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., heading for Montgomery, during a five-day, 50-mile walk to protest voting laws.
In this March 21, 1965, photo, Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights marchers cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., heading for Montgomery, during a five-day, 50-mile walk to protest voting laws.

The Unity Group, which for years has organized the annual M.L. King Day celebration in Chattanooga, said other organizations also are planning events during the week-long observance in January.

Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, will be the Unity Group's guest speaker on Jan. 12.

Unity Group

The Unity Group hopes to raise $20,000 to fund its M.L. King Day celebration.Make checks payable to Second Missionary Services Inc. and put Unity Group on the memo line. Mail or deliver to Second Missionary Baptist Church at 2305 E. 3rd St. Contributions are tax-deductible.For more information, call Sherman Matthews at 423-364-3501 or email

To participate

To participate in service activities along M.L. King Boulevard, email McKissic at

Garza and two other women started the slogan in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Garza wrote a note to black people on Facebook intended to be a message of love. The note concluded with the sentence, "Black lives matter."

Since then, 26 chapters of Black Lives Matter have organized across the country, according to blacklives

The movement, which brings attention to violence against blacks, gained momentum after the deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., at the hands of police officers.

There have been more than 1,000 Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the country, according to news reports, and the Democratic and Republican national committees have said they would support Black Lives Matter activists hosting a presidential town hall or forum where the 2016 candidates could answer questions on racial justice.

The Unity Group named Judge Erika L. Matthews McJimpsey the M.L. King prayer breakfast speaker. McJimpsey, a Brainerd High School graduate, is the first black municipal judge for the city of Spartanburg, S.C. And instead of having a keynote speaker on Jan. 18, dancers from Phusion Center for the Contemporary Arts in Atlanta will perform.

The city of Chattanooga will hold it's own event the same day. Service projects are planned in the M.L. King neighborhood with about 500 volunteers, and there will be a dedication for the AT&T building mural at noon.

Multicultural Affairs director James McKissic said he respects the Unity Group's celebration and the city plans to complete its activities by 2 p.m., an hour before the Unity Group usually starts its parade line up at 3 p.m. for the downtown M.L. King parade. The parade is scheduled to start at 4 p.m.

But Unity Group President Sherman Matthews said his organization has hosted King celebrations for 45 years. He believes the city's program is a backlash to the Unity Group for bringing the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the controversial former pastor of President Barack Obama, and Umar Johnson, a certified school psychologist, to the city in 2015.

Wright called the tea party a "2.0 upgrade of a lynch mob," at the 2015 M.L. King prayer breakfast at Tucker Missionary Baptist Church.

Matthews said the city is hosting a separate program because Unity Group members did not want to hold this year's program at Olivet Baptist Church. He said he has asked to use Brainerd High School, but the location has not been confirmed and the group is still searching.

McKissic said the city has organized service projects on M.L. King Day for the past three years, including Highland Park and Alton Park.

Shane Morrow, founder of Jazzanooga, said he may have local bands playing during the mural dedication but they will stop playing before the Unity Group's parade.

He said there may be a program at Olivet Baptist at the same time as the Unity Group's evening program and he has reached out to the Tennessee State University choir to perform, but they have not confirmed.

Morrow said having multiple King Day activities is not unusual and it gives the community options for commemorating the civil rights leader.

"This was not meant to cause friction," Morrow said. "We all wanted to do things to celebrate the doctor. I'm at a loss to see why we can't all get along."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.

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