Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Marchers walk past the AT&T building on ML King Boulevard during the MLK Day march Monday, January 21, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The march was held in conjunction with a variety of other MLK Day events held throughout the day.

This year's annual Martin Luther King Week Celebration is another opportunity to celebrate the life of the Civil Rights icon and continue the necessary local work for social justice, local leaders said.

The Unity Group of Chattanooga is presenting the 10-day celebration and the city's 50th annual MLK Week, with this year's theme of "The Trumpet of Conscience: Why We Can't Wait." The week coincides with King's birthday on Jan. 15 and features community discussions and presentations.

This year's celebration is a chance to refocus efforts on the justice issues King was advocating, said Elenora Woods, president of Chattanooga's chapter of the NAACP.

"We have to never let the dream die that this country will be as one," Woods said. "That people, no matter what your background is, that we can all come together, work together, play together and live together as God's children."

READ MORE: Cook: 50 years of the Unity Group, a resurrection people

Among the events, Catherine Meeks, executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, will speak at the Saturday morning prayer breakfast. A best-selling author, Meeks has spent decades working to end racism and promote justice in Atlanta.

The Rev. Charlotte Williams, vice chair of the Unity Group, said the event about gun violence at her church, Eastdale Village Community UMC, is particularly pressing because of the recent rise in violence in Chattanooga. The Friday night gathering will mix poetry, politics and faith to look at how to push back against violence in the community and violence done to the community by law enforcement, she said.

"We want to let people know that the violence in our community is unacceptable," Williams said. "We have people going to funerals and not to college."

The events culminate on MLK Day, Jan 20, with a march through downtown and a panel discussion of local civil rights leaders about the accomplishments and ongoing struggles in Chattanooga.

Lee University King Celebration

On Monday, Jan 20, Lee University will begin its week of M.L. King Day-related events. Assistant professor of sociology Ruth Wienk will present “Resistance, Lament and Praise: The History and Practice of African American Protest Music” in the Johnson Lecture Hall at 7 p.m.

Other events that week include:

  • Tuesday, Jan 21 at 10:40 a.m.: Mo Huggins, pastor of Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Georgia and Lee graduate, will speak in the chapel service.
  • Tuesday, Jan 21 at 7 p.m.: “King in the Wilderness,” the 2018 documentary on King’s life, will be shown in the Rose Lecture Hall with open conversation to follow.
  • Wednesday, Jan 22: The Black Student Union will have its first meeting of the semester in the Humanities Center Room 207.
  • Thursday, Jan 23 at 7 p.m.: “Bridging our Parallel Lives: Lee University and College Hill Community” panel discussion in the Johnson Lecture Hall.
  • Friday, Jan 24 at 7 p.m.: “Help Me Be Sensitive” discussion about student perspectives on social issues in the Johnson Lecture Hall.

Source: Lee University

Formed more than 50 years ago out of the civil rights movement, the Unity Group has pushed for greater justice in the city and representation for black people, said Quenston Coleman, former chair for Chattanooga's MLK Week.

The city has a special connection to King, Coleman said, because the civil rights leader called on local Chattanooga clergy, including C.T. Vivian, to join him in Birmingham in 1963.

"The fact that we're here 50 years later is not a fluke or an accident because we were there from the start," Coleman said.

READ MORE: Should teachers talk about race? Here's what educators have to say.

Woods said the week is not just a time to celebrate. It is an opportunity for people to address the most pressing community issues, including housing, education and violence, she said. For example, Hamilton County Schools trails the state academically and was flagged in 2019 for disproportionately disciplining black students with disabilities.

"Let us not just celebrate," Woods said. "Let us work toward doing the things that he stood for to help us move forward and get over these challenges that we have."

READ MORE: Check out these M.L. King observance events happening in the Chattanooga region

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