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Inside the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on MLK Day 2024

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute's MLK Day of Programming included area students, scavenger hunts, quizzes, games, free self-guided tours and free book giveaways. (Sym Posey, The Birmingham Times)

By Sym Posey

The Birmingham Times

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was on display Monday at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute during one of its busiest days of the year.

Helping with the overflow of visitors during the annual celebration of MLK’s birthday, several volunteers part of BCRI’s Legacy Youth Leadership Program (LYLP) were on hand and spoke about being inspired by the Civil Rights icon.

One of those was Nalin Reed, 17, a senior at Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA) in Birmingham who took on the role of MLK in the school’s play, “I Am the Dream”.

“I’ve known about Dr. King since I was three years old,” said Reed. “My mother always made sure that I knew my history. I’ve been doing plays like this since I was that age … Dr. King showed me how to connect with people no matter where you are. It’s really all about love and operating in the name of love. I believe in our world we see a lot of trials and tribulations that we can solve with love. “

What Jordan Belser, 18, a senior at A.H. Parker High School in Birmingham and LYLP volunteer, found most inspiring about Dr. King “is his continuation to keep going even after all his struggles [battling segregationists] … He has inspired me to keep going, keep fighting, and never give up … He has been gone a long time and I feel like we see more of his impact as times goes on.”

The LYLP Program utilizes BCRI’s mission, collections, programs, and partnerships to engage area high school students in a series of training experiences and internship opportunities.

Ka’Lise Benson, 18, a student at ASFA said King’s life had a personal connection.

“In middle school, my very first theater performance was of [King’s wife] Coretta Scott King. I remember going to an all-white southern Baptist school, Civil Rights studies were not a big part of our curriculum. I had teachers who wanted to incorporate that topic into our performance season. I was the only Black girl doing it and I had not done theater before … and that sparked my interest in Civil Rights history, Black history, and American history,” she said.

Zamir McNeal, a junior at Huffman High School in Birmingham said, he’s learned how King confronted injustice “to confront not only my personal problems, but also problems that I see in my community … Bringing that advocacy and voice to my community to use as a tool to speak up on problems like gun violence and racism.”

Dr. King’s impact is marked with several historic protests (the March on Washington, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, etc.) but none was as important as the ‘Project C’ protests in Birmingham Alabama in May 1963. These brought unprecedented pressure to act on the federal government and set led to legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

This year’s BCRI MLK Day celebration included scavenger hunts, quizzes, games, free self-guided tours, Carlton Reese Memorial Unity Choir, health fair, a free book giveaway and a play with Making It Happen Theatre (MIN).

The BCRI is located at 520 16th St N, Birmingham, AL 35203 and for more information (205) 328-9696 or visit https://www.bcri.org