LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Monday marked the 28th time Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed by the United States, with London and Laurel County being no exception.
While festivities included gospel singing, a fashion show, a photo booth, a march down Main Street, a reading of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and a dinner, it was Adanma Barton’s speech that ultimately reminded celebrators why they were gathered at the London Community Center.
Barton’s speech began with a quote from a play she wrote with Laurel County’s own Silas House called “This Is My Heart For You.”
“Acceptance and love are the same thing – you can’t have one without the other,” Barton said. “Love is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Martin Luther King. I love the man and I love his message.”
Barton, an assistant professor in Theatre from Berea College, then related her parents’ story of immigration to the United States from Nigeria, escaping a war that claimed three million lives. She claims it was the opportunity for education that brought her parents – one of whom is a decorated professor at Virginia Union University while the other is a nurse – to America.
Barton could not help but continue their appreciation by commending the celebration’s reading of children’s essays. Cameron Baker, who spoke moments before Barton, was awarded monetarily.
“It was always drilled into me and my sisters’ heads: school, school, school. Education is something that they cannot take away from you,” Barton said. “It’s so wonderful to hear young people read their essays and seeing people who are recognized for their talents – it’s so important.”
Barton then related the struggles of her family to achieve the American dream. They faced discrimination in Texas – even while Barton’s father had earned a PhD. – forcing her mother to work two nursing jobs. In Mississippi, Barton claims she lost her innocence when witnessing a Ku Klux Klan march and firebomb in 1987.
“The dream still continues,” was the only thing Barton could say in summary.
This precursor led to Barton’s main topic: there’s still work to be done through education and using it constructively.
“We can break these chains, we can embrace our identity, and we can present our gifts to the world,” she said. “Every person in here has a talent, a gift – I’ve seen and heard it.”
Barton solidified her point by remarking how until the year 2000, Virginia did not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but Lee-Jackson Day – a holiday commemorating Confederacy Generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee.
“I go on to think of people I’ve gone to high school with who I’ve lost in Afghanistan,” Barton said. “I think of Trayvon in Florida, I think of the young girl who went in for a tonsillectomy and ended up in a coma; I think of all these things and I know we still have work to do. I know we can’t be in Florida, we can’t be in California, but I know we can be in Kentucky. We can start from where we are.”
Barton’s speech went on to include that while people know of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is kept alive by his dream, his beautiful speeches, and his edifying memorials, people should more importantly honor his actions.
“There was actual training in civil disobedience, training people how to take a hit, how to take a punch, how to be arrested,” she said. “How you can drive out hate with love.”
The speech concluded with Barton’s insistence of garnering young people’s talents and how, through them, we can eventually accomplish anything as a society.
“Sure it starts out black and white,” she said. “But there’s an entire people we need to give the microphone to. As long as we come together like this and singing songs of praise, celebrating our young people and their talents, I surely believe that we can still achieve the dream that Martin Luther King spoke of so many years ago.”