Virtual MLK Day event to feature Baratunde Thurston

Courtesy Photos Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the MLK Jr. Day Committee of Northeast Michigan has planned a virtual event at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

ALPENA — As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on, many events have returned to a virtual format, including Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day TED Talk and discussion.

The MLK Jr. Day Committee of Northeast Michigan will host a Zoom discussion at 7 p.m. on Monday, featuring a 15-minute TED Talk by Baratunde Thurston on “How to Deconstruct Racism.”

“Thurston is an Emmy-nominated writer, activist, and comedian who addresses serious issues with depth, wit, and calls to action,” a press release from the MLK Committee states. “He believes the stories we tell help shape the world in which we live.”

The discussion based on the TED Talk will be led by MLK Committee members Pastor Tom Orth of Grace Lutheran Church and Sandra Pilgrim-Lewis of the Division of Victim Services, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“She had previously been the director of, at the time it was Shelter, Inc., and now it’s called Hope Shores Alliance,” Orth said of Pilgrim-Lewis, who is a person of color. “She is someone who is very knowledgeable about this in the field, and speaks in the state, nationally, and even internationally, on the topics of social justice and racial justice. She’s an incredible resource to have.”

Baratunde Thurston’s TED talk will be the topic of discussion on Monday. He is an Emmy-nominated writer, activist, and comedian who addresses serious issues with depth, wit, and calls to action.

He explained why this year’s MLK Jr. Day activities are different.

“We usually have activities at ACC on Martin Luther King Day, and, because of COVID, and also, because I think it’s the first day of their semester, we’re not able to do all the things we would normally do,” Orth explained.

Although the program is scaled back and virtual, Orth said it is still very important to address the racial issues we are still dealing with today.

“It’s a TED Talk, so those are concise and impactful,” Orth said. “He challenges us about the issues of race and racism.”

He said Thurston goes through some scenarios in which the same thing happening to a white person or a person of color might yield different results or reactions.

“It’s a bit of a challenge to talk about it, and help the majority, those of us who are white, realize that there is a difference to being a person of color in this country that we seldom think of because it’s not our experience,” Orth said.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday of January to celebrate the life achievements of King, an influential civil rights leader, best known for his work on racial equality and ending racial segregation in the U.S. King’s actual birthday was Jan. 15, 1929.

To request the link for the MLK, Jr. Day discussion, email abelovedcommunity.alpena@gmail.com.

In the press release, Orth talks about Thurston.

“In this profound, thought-provoking and often hilarious talk, he reveals the power of language to change stories of trauma into stories of healing — while challenging us all to level up,” Orth stated.

If you want to view the TED Talk prior to the

Zoom meeting, search TED Talks for “How to Deconstruct Racism, One Headline at a Time.”

Orth added that the MLK Committee has been around about 12 to 14 years. Prior to that, then Alpena High School Principal Greg Adamus headed up community events for MLK Jr. Day.

“For years we were doing it because the day was not off in the school system,” Orth added. “And, now it’s off, which is great, and we wish we could do some activities for the community on this day, so there would be a connection with the day off, and with Dr. King’s work.”

Orth added why it’s vital to talk about race rather than just going about our business without addressing it.

“The majority in the society don’t understand the differences in the experiences that are happening,” Orth said. “We’re not going to overcome our differences and the challenges in society by ignoring them or sweeping them under the rug. We need to openly talk about them, and have a discussion about why things are different for different people.”


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