Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on Jan. 16, is a celebration of his life and a reminder that there's still work to be done in this country for his dream to be fully realized.

Besides Columbus Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday named after a person.

That honor alone speaks to the greatness of the slain civil-rights hero. King touched the world through his non violent protests, while attempting to reshape America into a nation that would no longer discriminate against one's gender, color or creed.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on Jan. 16, is a celebration of his life and a reminder that there's still work to be done in this country for his dream to be fully realized.

What's your dream?

Rev. Ellis Louden wants to inspire people to carry on King's legacy through his keynote address at Delaware State University's annual MLK tribute, which will include a performance by Dover's Sankofa African Dance Company.

The event will be held in DSU's Education and Humanities Theater on Jan. 16.

“I wanted to focus on basically: have you really thought about what your dream is for your life, the community and nation, and what are you willing to do to fulfill that?” said Louden of Mt. Zion AME church in Dover.

When asked his dreams and how he plans to accomplish them, Louden responded: “A lot of it has to do with my ministry and my service.”

In November he invites the public to attend his Thanksgiving church service where people – regardless of their faith – can address issues they'd like to see improved upon in the community, the reverend said.

Outside of his church, Louden sits on the board of Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, a nonprofit dedicated to providing homeless men shelter. He also sits on the board of Children's Service, Inc., a nonprofit agency in Philadelphia that provides foster care and adoption services.

Reuben Salters, founder of the Inner City Cultural League, selected Louden as the keynote because he's a humanitarian.

“He's very conscious of the civil rights and social conditions of our country. He's a very smart man,” Salters said.

Meeting MLK 

In 1957, Salters was in the Air Force stationed in Alabama for four months. While there, he became a member of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where a 28-year-old King was pastor.

“I met him more than once,” said Salters, who is 88 and was born the same year as King in 1929. “I went every Sunday to absorb some of his eloquence.”

Salters enjoyed King's sermons and appreciated his heart for people. But he wasn't overwhelmed with him at the time, because King hadn't quite emerged as the world-renowned civil rights leader he's known for today.

“His name was out, but he wasn't famous yet. He was up and coming and good. But he was just a preacher,” Salters said. “As time went on in that four-month period, I went on to admire his eloquence and the things he stood for.”

One of the things King valued was education.

“From what I understand, even at the height of the civil rights movement, he read at least a book a week,” Louden said. “We need to also appreciate that about him.”

More work ahead 

The road of equality King helped to pave is wider and smoother in today's America than when he started in the 1960s.

But that road still isn't without bumps. And some of the same potholes exist now as did back then. A glaring one is the social injustice of law enforcement toward black people.

It was common for police to attack unarmed black people with canines and/or batons without any consequence during the civil rights protests of the '60s.

In recent years, there's been a trend of videos of police fatally shooting unarmed black men. Many of the high-profile cases resulted in no convictions.

“It's bad,” Louden said about the shootings.

The reverend knows tough times. He lived through the 1960s, a decade rattled by the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcom X, Robert F. Kennedy and King. The Vietnam War was also going on during that era.

Louden was a college student at Wilberforce University in Ohio when King was assassinated in 1968.

“I don't know what's worse, a political assassination or a killing on the street of an unarmed young man,” the reverend said. “My response is I'm angry about it.

“Sometimes I feel helpless about how to deal with it, other than what I'm trying to do with our community and be an advocate.”

Solutions

In an attempt to make progress, corporate law attorneys Wali Rushdan II and Mary Akhimien are co-chairing the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast Jan. 16, presented by the Delaware State Bar Association.

The event's keynote speaker is Dr. Clarence Jones, who was an advisor and speechwriter for King.

“He's going to talk about his personal relationship with Dr. King and he'll discuss where he thinks we, as a society, can go from here – in terms of race relations, diversity and inclusion efforts and treating each person like they would want to be treated,” Akhimien said.

The attorney said accepting one's differences is a step toward change.

“I think the mistake a lot of people make is they only associate with certain people or they stay in silos and are afraid to collaborate with others who think differently,” Akhimien said.

“I think one of the great things Dr. King taught us is to not be afraid to associate or work with people who think differently or come from a different background,” she added. “That's how we move forward in society and foster change.”

Rushdan explained the MLK breakfast is important because it'll remind people of the elephant in the room.

“I think time can be deceptive in convincing people that certain problems aren't still there,” he said. “But time alone won't heal wounds.”