Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington to mark 10th anniversary with gala, ceremony

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WASHINGTON — In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C., opening to the public, the foundation behind the monument is hosting two events this week in the capital city.

On Wednesday, the foundation will hold an invitation-only anniversary gala in Washington titled “Moving the Dream Forward ...Forever a Stone of Hope,” celebrating the foundation's inaugural class of social justice fellows. The 50 young leaders from across America selected for the program came together virtually this summer to learn skills around leadership, advocacy and community organizing modeled in the work of King himself.

The event will also honor the sponsors who helped create the program, as well as pay homage to members of Congress who have supported the foundation over the years, said Harry Johnson Sr., president and CEO of The Memorial Foundation.

An anniversary dedication ceremony will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the memorial site on Independence Avenue, with appearances and remarks from civic and faith leaders, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Martin Luther King III, in addition to performances by musicians and local students.

The memorial was originally dedicated in October 2011 and includes a 30-foot-tall stone granite statue of King carved by sculptor Lei Yixin, based on a quote from King's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech: "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." The statue is surrounded by an inscription wall that includes 14 quotes from King's speeches, sermons and writing.

Cherry trees are in full bloom in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at the Tidal Basin April 1, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Cherry trees are in full bloom in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at the Tidal Basin April 1, 2019 in Washington, DC.

"The memorial in Washington, D.C., has become a focal place for people to come looking for that hope, looking for justice," Johnson told USA TODAY in an interview. "So we're excited that it's there, especially surrounding younger generations of folks who are coming out having never met Martin Luther King, but who look upon his words of wisdom around that wall and come in peace and come in solace to read the words, and just really reflect on what the memorial means to all Americans."

The co-chairs of the 10th-anniversary events include singer and performer Lionel Richie; businesswoman and former CEO of MetricStream Shellye Archambeau, and American fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger. The chairs were selected based on their involvement with the work of the Foundation, the building of the memorial, and in the case of Richie, their connection to King himself, according to Johnson.

Richie was a student at Tuskegee University when King visited in the early 1960s, and the singer often visits the memorial to pay tribute when he's in the capital.

In addition to this week's events, the foundation also held other programs earlier this year as part of the anniversary celebrations, including a "Films at the Stone" summer film series at the memorial with showings of "One Night in Miami," "The Princess and the Frog" and "Black Panther."

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The memorial, located on the edge of the Tidal Basin in Washington, was previously closed on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday earlier this year following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol building and out of an abundance of caution ahead of Joe Biden's presidential inauguration. COVID-19 also forced many planned celebrations to be called off or held virtually.

Out of the foundation's four themes — democracy, justice, love and hope — Johnson says the third has been the focus of the anniversary celebrations, given the hardships faced by many Americans this year.

"Our belief this year was that we need to spread love," he said. "Our theme this year has been love because people have been hurting so bad, not just in DC but around the country."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington to mark 10th anniversary

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