People braved the freezing weather Monday to celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and discuss ways to carry on the legacy of the civil rights icon.
"If Dr. King was here today, he would say something like this: The struggle continues. Even though the flames are flickering, the light never dies," said Quenston Coleman, who has helped organize MLK Week events in Chattanooga for more than three decades.
The annual MLK Week celebration in Chattanooga has followed a virtual format the past two years because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This year, experts led discussions on voting rights, criminal justice reform, impacts of the pandemic and research on why Black residents are leaving the Chattanooga area.
Instead of the typical parade on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, organizers held a gathering in Miller Park on Monday afternoon.
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, said people must work with and believe in the next generation to improve the community. That must be a central focus, he said.
"We recognize the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. There's so much work to be done. There's so much that we have on the agenda as priorities," Hakeem said, listing voting rights, health care and criminal justice reform as examples.
Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey, D-Lake Vista, said he and others are working to create opportunities for young people to succeed. Too many are being left behind, and Martin Luther King Jr. serves as a reminder to fight for social justice, he said.
"In regards to doing better, the big equalizer has to do with education and opportunity. The [county] commission, we're going to push the state to do a better job of funding schools. Here in Hamilton County, you will acknowledge that the education you get at one school, and I won't name them, is different from the education you get at a different school."
Today's jobs require top-level education and training, which is why he is pushing for a vocational school, Mackey said.
Other speakers touched on topics for reform such as prison sentencing and education.
Ann Pierre, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said it is an honor to work on reform with young people in the shadow of a historic figure like King.
"We are so grateful that we are able to carry the torch at the NAACP," Pierre said.
Contact Wyatt Massey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.