By: Brooke Curley
SAFFORD – Looking back and moving forward together was the theme for the celebration honoring slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on Wednesday at the David M. Player Center for the Arts.
This year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration was a musically-entrancing and thought-provoking medley of talent, experience and knowledge. With multiple musical performances from several groups, including the Safford Dance Academy and the Safford High School Jazz Ensemble, coupled with a speech by keynote speaker Glendale Police Commander Andre Anderson. A history of jazz was presented by Safford City-Graham County Library Senior Library Technician Brandon Nite.
Starting off the program, the Barbea Williams Performance Group sang and danced multiple cultural and story dances. The group specializes in African and African-Latino dance, choreography, folklore and story dance. The award-winning, Tucson-based dance academy performed three major dances throughout the celebration.
After a singing performance by Theresa Murray, keynote speaker Andre Anderson gave a half-hour speech. For those who may not have known, Andre Anderson was the interim police chief in Ferguson, Mo. following the civil unrest and riots of August, 2014. The riots were sparked by the shooting of a black man, Michael Brown, by a white police officer, Darrin Wilson.
Anderson began his speech by informing the audience that what they may have seen on the television during the 2014 civil unrest in Ferguson was not all necessarily factual.
“There is racial discord, but the reality is that not everything you saw on TV was really what was taking place,” Anderson said. “Today’s theme is looking back and moving forward together, and I believe it’s appropriate given the nature of our current climate. There is no doubt that those behind the scenes have carved the way for us to celebrate.”
Anderson later spoke about the historical aspects of Dr. King’s journey.
“With respect, we pay homage to his dream today, right? We can clearly see and understand what he meant when he said one day children will live in elation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” Anderson said. “The question we must ask today is are we there yet? I want you to ask yourself, ‘are you making marks to improve race relations?’ Are you truly looking at the past and using our progress to move forward together?”
Later that night, Anderson told Gila Valley Central that he believed the celebration and community gathering was an advanced practice and idea. Anderson also said the world was changing.
“I think that what we’re doing here is very progressive,” he said. “It’s allowing to exemplify the things that Dr. King did for the rest of the country, and I think that it was a very inclusive approach that he had. Things are changing quite a bit, but the reality is that it poses as an opportunity for us to unite everybody. Fredrick Douglas has a quote that says, ‘without struggle there is no progress.’ Certainly we’re going to see struggle, but it isn’t anything that we can’t conquer together as long as people unite for a common cause, so I think things are going to get a lot better.”
After Anderson’s remarks, the Safford Dance Academy did its performance. Following the performance, Brandon Nite read his 12-minute paper on the history of jazz while a slideshow featuring pictures of famous historical jazz giants were shown in the background along with a jazz accompaniment. Knight calls himself a librarian by day and a writer by night, and his writings were smooth yet filled with passionate storytelling properties.
The evening was concluded with a final performance by the Barbea Williams Performance Group and a video titled “I Have a Dream.”