ST PAUL — Despite the morning's bitter chill and still-snowy streets, thousands trekked to downtown St. Paul to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the state's 34th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration on Monday, Jan. 20.
Minnesotans piled into the Ordway theater to see poet Tish Jones and rapper Nur-D perform, as well as keynote speaker and "Grown-ish" actress Yara Shahidi speak. All three are Twin Cities natives.
Nearly 57 years after he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., Shahidi said King's work "translates so perfectly to right now."
"When I think about everything that he stands for, he perfectly depicts why intersectionality is important — the idea that at an integral level, all of our freedoms are so connected," she said. "There is no just advocating for one thing or one person."
Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan also made appearances at the event, as well as Democratic U.S. Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison via video. The politicians encouraged the crowd to honor King's legacy through a call to action.
Simon, calling 2020 a critical election year, harkened back to King's 1957 "Give us the Ballot" address, where he said, "Give us the ballot, and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens."
"He was right. It all starts with the ballot," Simon said via video. "If you can vote, you can transform."
Walz and Flanagan presented two awards at the event: the Civil Rights Champion Award to Duluth's Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial — which memorializes Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Issac McGhie, who were lynched by thousands of Duluthians in June 1920 — and the Building the Future Award to St. Paul's TruArtSpeaks, an organization promoting the arts and literacy for youth through hip-hop and spoken word poetry.