Updated: Mar 11, 2020
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war,” and that’s exactly what The Champions are working to do. The MLK Day celebration in Newberry has grown significantly over the years, now spanning an entire weekend with different events.
What started in 1980’s Newberry as a three-day event – including a pageant on Friday, parade down Drayton Street on Saturday, and Speeches on Sunday – has continued throughout the years to become a tradition for the Newberry community. For the last 19 years, Travis Reeder has been behind the scenes of Newberry’s MLK Celebration, serving the cause and taking it on as what many of his colleagues would consider his “brainchild.” The celebration now kicks off with a Parade down Main Street on Saturday at 2pm. On Sunday, a March ensues from Bethlehem Baptist Church to Miller Chapel AME Church to honor MLK at 9:30am. Once at Miller Chapel, a program is held at 10am. To finish out an incredible weekend of celebration, a luncheon is served at 2pm on Sunday at Community Hall, including a meal and guest speaker.
Although it is a celebration and day off of work, Champions members want to make sure that the purpose isn’t misconstrued. Active member Yoko Ruff said, “Consider it a day on, not a day off. It’s not a day for vacation, but a day to be active in the community to continue a legacy that was already started for the generations before us and the generations to come. The big step was already taken, we’re just the workers to keep progress moving forward.” Progress – that’s what it’s all about.
Progress can be seen in different forms, but the Champions strive for unity, starting right here in our community. A common mindset is shared within the Champions organization, believing that unity should have a ripple effect – starting in Newberry and spreading across the state. Yoko said, “No greater sense of unity can be accomplished until there is unity at home. We want to create harmony in our community so that we can show everyone that Newberry county will stand on one accord.”
To get things started here in Newberry, the Champions have worked with small businesses, companies, elected officials, and even the senate to call action to Newberry. The push for peace has been stronger within the past few years, particularly fueled by the recent gun violence seen in Newberry County. With several Champions members suffering personal loss to the hands of gun violence, the organization is working to raise awareness and make people start listening. Just as Martin Luther King Jr. was a speaker of peace, the Champions plan to follow the same path, letting people know that there is a better way of life – free of gun violence, tragedy, and danger.
Key component and member, Antony Caldwell, reflected on the meaning of the holiday; “The meaning hasn’t changed, as it’s resilient throughout time. However, it has become more inclusive and involvement is greater. It’s no longer about black and white, but about anyone who has been oppressed regarding any aspect of life. The holiday, and our events, give people a place where they matter.”
The Champions see a bright and expansive future for the MLK Celebration in Newberry County. They report a host of influential and constructive participants for this year’s events and look forward to growth in the years to come. With spectators coming from North Carolina and beyond, they hope for the weekend to become a nationally acclaimed event, earning title of “The Premiere MLK Event of the Southeast.”
Although it’s too late to participate in the 2020 parade, your attendance on Main Street would be greatly appreciated by the Champions and the Newberry community. The public is welcomed to attend the march on Sunday morning, as well as the program that follows. Be a part of something greater and work for unity in your community. Find more information on:
Written by Katharine Chappell