Unity Group of Chattanooga begins weeklong MLK celebration

Staff file photo / People take part in a memorial march along M.L. King Boulevard on Jan. 20, 2020, in Chattanooga. The memorial march was part of the Unity Group of Chattanooga's 50th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Week celebration.

The countdown to Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 16 begins Sunday in Chattanooga when a local social justice organization kicks off a weeklong commemoration of the holiday.

In a phone call Friday, Eric Atkins said he and his Unity Group of Chattanooga co-chair, Pastor Charlotte Williams, are trying to live up to the ideals set by those who served before them: the Rev. Paul McDaniel, Sherman Matthews and Quenston Coleman, all of whom died in the past 18 months.

"We just want to carry on the work of our predecessors and hope we can do them justice," Atkins said.

The commemoration of King's birthday is a 53-year tradition for the organization, which was founded in 1969 to help Black candidates get elected to public office. That's a longer tenure than Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which became a federal holiday in 1983.

Over the years, Atkins said, activities have been added to the lineup "to hit all the aspects that Dr. King stood for. He was a religious figure, educator, civil rights and social justice advocate. We try to intertwine all those together with lectures, presentations, special events and interdenominational services."

The weeklong observance, he said, is meant to celebrate African American history while shining a light on current events that affect disadvantaged and underserved communities.

"We advocate for social justice and change and standing for the people at the bottom," Atkins said.

This year's theme is "Everybody Can Be Great Through Love and Service."

Learn more at facebook.com/unitygroupofchattanooga.


-- Sunday: Screening and discussion of "At the River I Stand," 4 p.m. via Zoom. The documentary recounts the two months leading to King's death in 1968, which coincided with a 65-day strike of 1,300 Memphis sanitation workers. The event is meant to tie King's legacy for equity and justice to United Campus Workers, the faculty and staff union at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Chattanooga State Community College.

-- Monday: "The Cavalry Ain't Coming: We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting On," led by co-chair Williams, 6:30 p.m. at Eastdale Village United Methodist Church, 1403 Tunnel Blvd.

-- Thursday: Introduction of the Community Haven Patrol, led by Kevin Muhammad, 6 p.m. at the Community Haven, 815 N. Hickory St.

-- Friday: The Silent Murder panel discussion, led by Concerned Citizens for Justice, 7 p.m. at Eastdale Village UMC.

-- Jan. 14: "Dr. King, the Purpose of Education and Why Retention Is Punishment," led by the Chattanooga NAACP, 6 p.m. via Zoom.

-- Jan. 15: MLK Week Gospel Music Extravaganza, led by Willie McClendon, 4 p.m. at Bethel AME Church, 2000 Walker St.

-- Jan. 16: Third annual MLK Day Youth Leadership Symposium, "Building the Beloved Community Through Racial, Economic and Environmental Justice," led by the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga, 10 a.m. at Bessie Smith Cultural Center, 200 E. M.L. King Blvd.

-- Jan. 16: 53rd annual MLK Parade and March. Parade lineup begins at 12:30 p.m. along Georgia Avenue by Miller Park for procession starting at 1 p.m. down M.L. King Boulevard to Peeples Street. Main program at 3 p.m. at Olivet Baptist Church, 740 E. M.L. King Blvd., with minister and author Jamal Harrison Bryant, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., as featured speaker.

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.