Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of perseverance, Kayla Dionne Washington is looking forward to encouraging Bartow’s youth during this year’s King Holiday Weekend celebration. Previously earning the valedictorian distinction for Cass High School’s Class of 2009, the Cartersville resident currently is a fiscal policy analyst for the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget’s education division.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been an inspiration to me, because his words have applied to every aspect of my life,” Washington said. “His ‘I Have a Dream’ speech taught me to not only dream big, but boldly. In Dr. King’s speech, he acknowledged that the lives of his audience may not have been ideal, but he encouraged them to press forward in the march for justice. This message of ‘pressing on’ even when times get difficult inspires me.
“In high school, I was very focused on getting accepted into college and applying for scholarships to help pay for my education. At times, it was stressful, because I was working really hard to keep my 4.0-plus GPA, while taking advanced placement courses, being involved in student organizations, taking college courses at Georgia Highlands College and working part time [with] ... the Bartow County Library [System]. There were times when I wondered if all my hard work was worth it. When I took the stage to address my fellow classmates at graduation as the valedictorian and I saw how proud my family was, I knew it was worth it.”
On Monday, Washington will deliver encouraging words to participants of the Youth Rally and Program at St. Luke A.M.E. Church, 130 Jones St. in Cartersville. During the offering, which starts at 10 a.m., the young attendees also will pay tribute to King’s life with songs, skits, poetry and dance.
“I was surprised and honored at the same time,” Washington said, about being asked to speak at the King Holiday Weekend celebration program. “My presentation will entail talking to the youth about my personal experiences. I did not want to write a speech preaching to the youth, but I wanted to let them know that I can relate to the struggles they may be facing. The key things I want to share with the attendees [are] to value their self-worth, to not compare themselves to other people and to stay focused on their goals.
“I want them to take away that they should be confident in themselves and their abilities to achieve any goal they set. ... It is important [for me] to be a part of this event because it sows back into the community that I grew up in, while also spreading Dr. King’s message. I have been blessed with many opportunities in my life, and I feel it is my duty to help encourage others.”
A federal and state holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day marks King’s birthday and is recognized annually on the third Monday in January. Born in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929, King led the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until he was killed in 1968.
The local King festivities will kick off today with a 6 p.m. candlelight service at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 147 Jones St. in Cartersville, featuring music from the Greater Mt. Olive Male Chorus and Jeremy Morton — senior pastor of Cartersville First Baptist Church, as the keynote speaker.
Along with the Youth Rally and Program, Monday’s celebration will include a Brotherhood March and Program. After assembling at the Cartersville Civic Center, 435 W. Main St., at 1:15 p.m., the march participants — led by grand marshal Anne Robinson — will proceed at 2 p.m. to the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center, 135 W. Cherokee Ave. A wreath-laying ceremony will be conducted, then the crowd will return to the civic center for the Brotherhood Program.
As the speaker of the event’s final offering, St. Luke A.M.E. Church’s senior pastor — the Rev. Dr. Lugenia Johnson — looks to encourage attendees to work together to carry on King’s legacy.
“I plan to inspire the audience and encourage them that there is still much work to be accomplished as we continue Dr. King’s legacy,” Johnson said. “I plan to remind us all that just as God had a purpose for Dr. King’s life, God has a purpose for each of us. It’s past time for each of us to pick up the mantle and continue to move forward.
“... We have not arrived at the place where we can be at ease ‘in Zion.’ Our children and schools continue to suffer. Families and the homeless continue to suffer. There is much to do that [it] will take all of us to do it. As Dr. King once said, ‘We may have come here on a different ship, but we are all in the same boat now.’”
For more information about the King Holiday Weekend celebration, call MLK Celebration Committee Chairperson Linda Ford Kellogg at 770-865-1797.