Hundreds join in unity at MLK celebration

Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Event - “The Dream Lives”

Hundreds gather for the MLK, Jr., celebration, hosted by the Mayor's Commission on Unity, Diversity and Prosperity at The Liberty Theatre Cultural Center
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Hundreds gather for the MLK, Jr., celebration, hosted by the Mayor's Commission on Unity, Diversity and Prosperity at The Liberty Theatre Cultural Center

With a crowd of about 600 looking on, one of America's biggest entrepreneurs said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted people to control their own destiny, not get anything handed to them.

"Being an entrepreneur is equality," said Daymond John of ABC's "Shark Tank" reality TV show. "When you are an entrepreneur and you are out there in charge of your own destiny, there is no difference in race, religion, creed or color. You are empowering yourself and passing that on to empower others."

John, co-founder of the FUBU brand, was the special guest Saturday at The Dream Lives, an annual tribute to the legacy of King with singing, dancing and presentations at the Liberty Theatre Cultural Center, 823 Eighth Ave. Sponsored by the Mayor's Commission on Unity, Diversity and Prosperity, the event started with 1-mile and 5K

runs before church groups, civic groups, schools and others joined a Unity Processional to the Liberty Theatre.

Two days before the nation recognizes the slain civil rights leader, John said he is a product of King's dream, which was not only for African-Americans to prosper, but also for everyone to prosper together.

"We all know in his struggles and his fights for unity and economic empowerment, it took people of all colors," he said. "I learned this as a child when my parents got divorced."

John said he learned much about King from his stepfather, who was Jewish. His stepfather and his brother were among those in the United States who helped fight apartheid in South Africa.

"He said to me, 'Son, be pro black but never anti anything else,'" John said. "That made me a better man. He learned that from Dr. King, and he taught that to me."

When he created FUBU, a hip hop apparel company, John said he found that African-Americans were not the only ones who loved it.

"People that actually bought it were people from Seattle, Washington, and kids in Japan because they respected the love of hip hop and this culture we were spreading," he said. "And every single time I have been anywhere, there has been advancement because people treat people like people. Love doesn't come in color or gender. Dr. King made sure that that was his message to all of us."

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said John's story is similar to the Columbus story, where brands like Cocoa-Cola, supplemental insurance provider Aflac and theater operator Carmike Cinemas started.

"This is a great city and today we celebrate that vision, that belief in self, belief in community that make entrepreneurs that make this country great," the mayor said. "It is very appropriate that we are here today celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King in this festival context."

The event also will make sure the little ones carry forth the legacy of justice, equity, love and hope, which King taught.

"One thing we are leaving behind is a legacy of hate," the mayor said. "That is what we are leaving behind. We come today to pass down one legacy of love and leave hate behind us. We also are here to build relationships, the genuine relationships that take communities through the tough times."

Tomlinson presented John a key to the city and invited him to return. She also presented "The Dream Lives Today Award" to Ma'Kayla Johnson, an eighth-grader at Rothschild Middle School.

Ma'Kayla wrote a poem in her social studies class about King and his struggles for equality.

"It's basically how African-Americans were treated," she said after the program.

She was all smiles holding the award.

"I'm feeling pretty good right now," she said.

The program inspired some people, but they also realize there is still more work ahead. Ray Lakes of Columbus said the event was a good opportunity to interact with the community.

"Keep the dream alive," he said. "I think some days we don't work at it, but we have to keep it at the forefront. We think the battle is over, but it is not."

Lakes is concerned about the next generation.

"We don't take the time to teach them," he said. "We've got to take the time to teach the next generation."