For the 23rd year, Lincoln-Bridgeforth Park Committee will celebrate the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. at Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church.
The free event is set for 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 20, at the church on Westmoreland Avenue in Athens. Leslie Williams, who helped organize the event, said parts of the celebration have been in the works since September.
"It means so much," Williams said. "(King) did so much, not just for people of color but for everybody. He was one of those people that wanted to reach out to everybody and make things better for everybody."
The Round Island Creek Male Chorus will be "bringing the service," Williams said.
"They really do a good job. It's probably 50 or 60 of them that come together and sing," he said.
The Rev. Harold Goodloe, senior pastor at Ephesus Seventh-Day Adventist in New Orleans, will be the guest speaker. Williams said Goodloe, a graduate of Trinity High School, was recommended by one of the committee members.
"I'm really excited to hear him," he said, adding Goodloe is a "well-traveled" speaker who has led multiple churches during his pastoral career.
In addition to King, two community members will be honored when the park advisory committee announces the recipients of the Dr. C. Eric Lincoln Humanitarian Award and Jimmy Gill Youth Leadership Award. This year, Gill's wife and daughter will present the youth leadership award on behalf of the late Athens city councilman.
Williams said the search for award recipients begins months before the event. Committee members look for several qualities in a candidate, including what the candidate has done to improve the community or be active within it. For the youth leadership award, members look for candidates who are active in school and extracurricular activities while being a positive person and influence on others.
"We have input from all the community members and ask if there's someone they feel ... has done something to impact," Williams said.
After the event, a free lunch will be provided in the church's fellowship hall.
"A lot of people don't think about it, but (King's death) was close to home," Williams said. "It was only in Memphis. We think about figures like him, and we think about the president or someone who is far away, but this was only three hours away."
King was born in Atlanta, but is often cited for his work in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement. He was a minister and activist who led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and nonviolent protests in Birmingham in 1963. After winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he organized the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery.
His assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, led to riots in many U.S. cities. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal, and in 1986, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a federal holiday.
Williams, who said he was only 3 years old when King died, remembers hearing about King through his mother and schoolteachers.
"It was like with President (John F.) Kennedy," Williams said. "They remembered everything they were doing that day (King was assassinated). It's something they never forgot."
He said knowing what King meant and accomplished is part of what makes celebrations like the annual event at Sweet Home M.B. Church so important to him.
"He pretty much gave his life so that we would have some of the opportunities we have now. Some of the things we are doing now — he paid the price for it."
Williams encouraged everyone to visit the church Monday to support King's legacy and the impact he continues to have on those in Athens and Limestone County.