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Speakers discuss importance of diversity at Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast

January 22, 2019

The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination provided the backdrop Monday morning for a diversity-focused event in Norfolk that is highly relevant given current events, the keynote speaker said.

Dr. Raponzil Drake of First United Methodist Church in Norfolk was the featured guest at the second annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast at the Lifelong Learning Center that was organized by the Norfolk Mayor’s Diversity Council.

“When we talk about diversity, let’s not have diversity for diversity’s sake, given the atrocities against humanity and done in the name of race,” she said. “Yes, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream — a plethora of humans in all their diversity — beautiful flowers growing wildly in this amazing journey we call life. That would be possible but for racism.”

Monday’s event celebrated diverse perspectives present in the Norfolk area and included prayers by Larry Wright Jr., chairman of the Ponca Tribe; Pastor David Martinez of Northern Heights Baptist Church and Pastor Mark Rose of Victory Road Assembly of God.

Wright, who offered a prayer in both English and the Omaha-Ponca language, said the event was especially significant after events that happened in Washington, D.C., on Friday. That’s when some students participating in the annual March for Life disrespectfully confronted Omaha tribal elder Nathan Phillips, who was participating in the Indigenous Peoples March.

“Days like today are even more important for us to bring people together, show how important Martin Luther King’s vision was in light of all our people,” Wright said.

Martinez also gave a prayer in two languages, English and Spanish, and thanked God for diversity in Norfolk.

“We know in this diversity we have a community; we are building a community of strength,” Martinez said. “Thank you, Father, because all together we are one race: the human race.”

In her comments, Drake talked about the history of both diversity and racism, and remembered moments in black history while also sharing her own personal experiences.

She challenged the audience to stand up against institutional racism, which she said starts with believing stories of the oppressed.

“I would insist that as we talk about diversity; one great starting place is to … believe histories, especially told from the perspective of the oppressed, the persecuted, those who are poor,” Drake said, including the histories of Native Americans, the Irish and Latinos.

She talked about the history of segregation in America and the integration of schools, which she participated in at a public school in Tennessee. While the country has made progress, things like media representation are still important to help minorities felt seen and share their stories on a larger scale, she said.

To keep making progress, she said people can’t “stand still” in what she called the moving walkway of institutional racism.

“You didn’t build the walkway, but you’re on it, want to be or not,” she said. “How will you choose to respond? Run in the opposite direction.”

Drake ended her speech by asking audience members to recognize people who have helped make Norfolk a more diverse and accepting place. One by one, attendees stood and volunteered names of others.

“You know people who have shaped Madison County,” she said. “Name them. Stand up because somebody’s been down for you.”

This representation matters in Norfolk to bring the community’s diversity to the forefront and show different perspectives, said Tamira Volk, event coordinator.

“We want to be inclusive of all cultures, to represent what Norfolk actually looks like,” Volk said. “It’s important because everyone needs to have a voice in the community we live in. We want to provide that opportunity and not just be listening to one portion of the community.”

The mayor’s diversity council formed in July 2017 and has about 18 members. Since then, it has hosted numerous other area events including Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day. Volk said she hopes the council will continue to expand and possibly host a Juneteenth event this year to help mark the annual black independence commemoration.

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