Here's an anecdote I heard from a co-worker last week. A friend of hers, a former Atlanta resident, was in town for the weekend. Her brother remarked on the timing of her visit. "Wow," he said. "What a great weekend to be in Atlanta. There must be so much going on."
"Not really," she replied.
Ever since I moved to Atlanta five years ago, I've been troubled by the city's lack of enthusiasm for what should be the most important day of our year: Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On this past MLK day, the 25th anniversary of the national holiday, it hit home especially.
I'm not disparaging the efforts put forth by MLK Day event organizers. Atlanta puts on a hell of a parade. The King Center hosts worthy events, and universities in the area, including Morehouse (King's alma mater) and Emory, hold celebrations and sponsor public service opportunities.
But it's not enough.
This is the city where the most important civil rights leader in our history was born. This is where he lived, preached, worked and changed the world. Shouldn't this also be the place that celebrates him most rigorously? Shouldn't we be internationally known for our pride and enthusiasm for our hometown hero?
When speaking to friends and colleagues about my disappointment over the holiday, people said, "There's no precedent for that kind of celebration. What would that even look like?"
I envision the kind of enthusiasm that would have museums holding groundbreaking civil rights exhibitions in conjunction with the holiday. I envision productions by Atlanta theater companies celebrating his life. The city should be home to film series, lectures, policy conferences and benefit concerts on this day.
Every one of our corporate mainstays — Turner, Coke and, yes, Creative Loafing — should host service days where the public is invited to join Atlanta's companies in civic projects. Imagine what could be done in one day if these corporations were given the task of doing something worthy of King's legacy. Imagine Atlanta on Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an international destination for people looking to honor, remember and celebrate him — and carry on his legacy.
(I'm not even going to get into the financial benefits for the city because it's beside the point I'm making. But let's just say there are more than just feel-good reasons to bring a passel of visitors to Atlanta.)
We are a city known for quite a few events. Gay Pride, the Decatur Book Festival, and Dragon*Con all bring throngs of people here every year. I'm proud to live in a place that has such diversity and energy, especially when it comes to celebrations that incite a citywide camaraderie. But shouldn't MLK Day get as much hoopla as a festival celebrating comic-book culture?
When I moved to Atlanta, I was excited to be coming to the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. And while aspects of the city do reflect that history, I often wish it were more explicit, that our pride in this man and his legacy had an outlet with more meaning. Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been a missed opportunity. Let's make it Atlanta's holiday.
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