Emily Rice Published

Supporters Work To Reframe The King Day Narrative Around Healing

Martin Luther King, Jr., photographed in 1961. William Lovelace

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech during the March on Washington in August 1963, he had no way of knowing the narrative and legacy the speech would leave behind.

Rev. Ronald English, former Pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston, said he aims to clarify the “King Narrative,” as the country celebrates the civil rights hero on January 16 this year. He wants to use that legacy for healing.

“The dream King narrative has been used for several different kinds of causes that were contrary to what Dr. King’s message was, his mission was, and his ministry was about,” English said. “That has only increased, particularly in the last two or three years, where the dream King has been used and misused and abused, I feel, for other causes and issues.”

English was ordained into the ministry by Drs. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. English shared that King had a different ending in mind for the speech that would go on to define his legacy, but gospel singer Mahalia Jackson advised him to, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”

English and other organizers aim to refocus the “King narrative” on the power of healing.

“Making that shift to the healing King was consistent with some of the things that I’ve been

involved in, as far as dealing with the health disparities that have impacted the African

American community since we got here in 1690 on slave ships,” English said. “The partnership of African American churches has been involved over the past year or so with giving vaccinations to deal with the COVID crisis.”

English, alongside the NAACP and the partnership of African American Churches, hopes to use the context of MLK Day celebrations as an instrument to provide tools and resources to the Black community, by focusing on different aspects of King’s message.

“We’re focusing on health disparities, and the responsibility that is ours to move that, and with momentum is where we are right now. At the time of his death, as far as identifying what he called the three evils of American society being racism, economic injustice, and militarism,” Rev. English said. “And so the economic injustice and racism kind of overlap when you look at what have been the causes of health disparities among African Americans, again, from the time we got here.”

The partnership of African American churches has provided vaccination clinics since December 2021.

“It also is an informative way of getting folks to the clinics and then, impacting information in the communities where those clinics are set up, and this is all over the state, so we’ve been able to move into parts of the state where the health disparities among African Americans has been really crucial,” English said. “In the process of doing the vaccination with local organizations, the NAACP branches and other organizations that would share a common goal, I believe in relieving the health disparities in the African American community, sharing a common voice that would help get that message around.”

As part of this endeavor, The Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs (HHOMA) will host a Commemoration and Celebration of King with an Ecumenical Service, march and bell-ringing at the West Virginia Culture Center at 9:30 a.m., Monday, Jan. 16.

The symbolic march and Ecumenical Service is open to the public and free of charge.

“We are honored to celebrate the life of Dr. King,” said HHOMA Executive Director and Martin Luther King Jr. State Holiday Commission Chair, Jill Upson. “His achievements and dedication to strengthening communities with peace and solidarity for mankind empower us all to be great.”