Paradise Valley honors Martin Luther King Jr. with annual celebration

Above are winners of the annual essay contest offered by The Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i of Paradise Valley. (Photo credit: Hessam Rahimian)

The Town of Paradise Valley hosted its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Monday, Jan. 21 at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, which featured a speaker, music and the announcement of the essay contest winners.

This year’s celebration, which the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Paradise Valley has sponsored since its inception 21 years ago in collaboration with the Town of Paradise Valley.

Essay winners

Four essays and their student authors were recognized at the 2019 Town of Paradise Valley Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration last week.

Each winning student, all from Phoenix Country Day School, earned a trophy and gift card from Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner and Mrs. Ellie Dana, secretary of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Paradise Valley.

For eight years, in honor of Dr. King, this event has included an essay contest. This contest is open to students who attend schools in Paradise Valley, live in Paradise Valley or have some other connection to the town.

The theme for the Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest this year was “Creating ‘The Beloved Community’”.

This year’s essay contest winners were fifth grader Christina Keller, sixth grader Katie Sodja, seventh grader Jenna Powell and eighth grader Adam Burns.

Dr. Neal Lester

Dr. Neal Lester displays the 2019 Diversity Champion Award presented to him by The Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i of Paradise Valley. (Photo credit: Hessam Rahimian)

Neal Lester, Ph.D, was the MLK Jr. Day Celebration keynote speaker and recipient of the 2019 Town of Paradise Valley Diversity Award. Dr. Lester is an Arizona State University professor of English and founder of Project Humanities in 2010.

His curriculum vitae has academic degrees, national awards, articles and publications and other accomplishments, but he was clear about one thing: The many academic degrees, awards and titles he holds are OK, he says, but for him the work he does is what is all-important to him.

He devotes his life to bringing people together to talk, listen and connect.

Dr. Lester quoted the well-known phrase, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the Declaration of Independence, the phrase that gives three examples of the “unalienable rights” which the declaration says have been given to all humans by their creator.

In concluding his speech, Dr. Lester issued two challenges — “not to seek looking good but doing good” and “to pursue more than personal happiness.”

Musical performance

Jo Watson and the Birdman group, once again filled the Town Council Chamber with the joy of celebration as a tribute to Dr. King.

Ms. Watson was raised with a gospel influence and formally trained in classical music. She again showed her ability to capture the hearts of her audience on the first note.

Jay Hoselton known on stage as “The Birdman” has a charismatic style and wit that leaves the audience in stitches. Mr. Hoselton entertains the room with his skill on the piano or keyboard and by singing an occasional song or two.

MLK National Day of Service Food Drive

In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King Junior Federal Holiday as a national day of service. MLK Day is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service.

In Paradise Valley, the national day of service is celebrated with a food drive. Donation boxes were in the lobbies of both the police station where there is 24-hour access to the collection box and near the post office here in Town Hall, since early December.

Year-round dialog

Discussions in Paradise Valley on the vision of Dr. King’s vision for our nation and for the world are not just a single day program. Rather, through two separate series of regular events, there are two regular opportunities for year-round discussions.

The first series is a weekly series called “Contributing to the discourses of society by addressing the most challenging issues in our lives.” It is almost every Friday at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall community room. The next one is Friday, Feb. 1.

Except for the last Friday of each month when a different organization has an open forum on unrelated topics, the discussions are every Friday. The dynamics of these discussion comes from each participant, who contributes his or her own perspectives, culture and/or beliefs.

Everyone is welcome, regardless of religious, political and cultural beliefs.

Examples of topics for discussion include healing the effects of racism; achieving inner happiness; understanding challenges in personal lives; engaging practical tools to foster a purposeful personal, family, and community; promoting unity; alleviating frustration and suffering; and offering practical solutions and perspectives in a divided, toxic and confused environment.

The second series of discussions is a monthly get-together at the home of a Paradise Valley resident on a Sunday that features noted guest speakers and discussion facilitators. The general topic is “Healing Racism”.

Details on these year-round series of discussions on honoring Dr. King’s ideas and actions are on Paradise Valley MLK Day website. Both series of discussions require RSVPs.

Recruiting volunteers

Town residents and others interested in helping in some way with next year’s Town of Paradise Valley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration signed at the event.

Others who may want to volunteer may email John Wintersteen at The MLK Jr. Celebration planning committee especially encourages younger people to volunteer.

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