Church of the City pastor Curtis Zachary asked the one question inside the First Missionary Baptist Church on Monday.

People from all over Franklin and Williamson County packed the small sanctuary. Pews were acked and attendees spilled into the aisles as some sat on the purple carpet while others leaned against the white walls to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Baptist preacher turned activist is most known for his “I Have a Dream Speech” along with his writings and provocations of social change.

“The question is why do we celebrate him? That is the question I first asked myself,” he said, his hands clutching the clear podium. “For me, all I have to do is look in the mirror. I was born with a white mom and a black dad. I have a Hispanic wife. I have a tri-racial son. I have to have the conversation. I have no choice. But we all need to have the conversation.”

On this lauded day for the assassinated Civil Rights leader, the language turned to a more serious note with hints of excitement. All throughout the morning, musicians sang out, urging the crowd of more than 150 to stand and clap along. Other pastors from around the community shared favorite quotations of King and their personal stories of what the day meant to them.

The newest CEO of Graceworks – a Williamson nonprofit to help those in the area who need – shared how she directly benefited from the Civil Rights movement and King’s work.

Originally from Chicago, Valenica Breckenridge said she lived in an inner city neighborhood growing up, one burned and looted after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“I am committed to honoring his legacy and keeping his dream alive,” she said. “I believe you and I shape the culture of our nation. We have the opportunity to make his dream true. We have to live the dream. We have the power to change things through our prayers and through our actions. I am making my commitment to do my part in bringing it to full vision.”

Breckenridge said had it not been for King, she wouldn’t have had the opportunities for education that she received much less be where she currently is now in life.

“I was this little ghetto nobody girl,” she said. “Now, I have an MBA from Northwestern. And here I am in Tennessee, right? A former slave state. This is new for me to be in a former slave state. And in preparing for this, I was sad to also realize that this is the state where MLK was assassinated. Here I am serving as CEO of Graceworks in Franklin no less. This little town with a small percentage of black people. It’s God favor to me and I hope it’s God favor to you.”

MLK day
Participants gather signs for the march to the Franklin Public Square. // EMILY R. WEST PHOTO

Before everyone gathered signs to march to Old Williamson County Courthouse, Zachary asked that those in the audience remember one key thing. Kids held signs promoting love over hate, along with other popular MLK quotations.

“Why is it important we do this?” he asked. “It’s a simple answer. The work of civil rights is an expression of the way of Jesus. I knew we would be transitioning to march together but it begs the question why should we march. We will march for finished work and unfinished work.”

Emily West covers Franklin, education, and the state legislature for the Franklin Home Page. Contact her at emily@franklinhomepage.com. Follow her on Twitter via @emwest22. 

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