Organizers want the town’s annual MLK Dreamfest Celebration in January to highlight Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s values through discussions on race relations and racial identity. They hope nationally known speakers like former NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal of Washington state will facilitate the dialogue.
The theme of the annual celebration, which will run Jan. 14 to 16, is “Healing Race Relations through Conversation and Participation.” Attendees will be able to delve into this theme through a variety of events, including an International Diversity Summit at the Cary Arts Center, featuring panel discussions with community and religious leaders.
Dolezal, who was born to white parents, drew national attention last year after resigning as president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Wash., following allegations that she lied about her racial identity.
“We chose a person like Rachel Dolezal that has been depicted as a major villain through media because of her preference of racial identity,” said Al Cohen, CEO of Jireh Management Group. “And yet, she didn’t steal from anybody. She didn’t murder anybody. She didn’t rob anybody. She only had an affinity for a group of people, and she served her community well.”
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This is the third year that Jireh Management is organizing the Saturday activities of the three-day celebration.
There will be a screening of “And Still I Rise,” a feature documentary about Maya Angelou, on Sunday, as well as community service activities to help maintain and beautify the area around the Middle Creek Community Center on Monday.
While much of the event is ironed out, a keynote speaker has yet to be selected.
Cohen said he believes the keynote speaker will encourage a conversation about the healing of race relations and the role people can play to bring about racial healing.
He anticipates Dolezal will help bring about similar discussions. She is expected to participate in a structured conversation with representatives of the NAACP and African-American Studies professors from area universities to “allow a fuller understanding of how she has come to view racial identity and what we might learn from her perspective,” according to Jireh Management.
Some Cary Town Council members reported receiving emails from residents who were concerned about Dolezal’s involvement, and councilman Don Frantz agreed with their concerns.
“I fail to see how somebody who lives a lie adds value to an honest discussion about real racial issues in this country,” he said. “I fail to understand the logic behind that decision if the goal is to have an honest discussion about racism in America.”
But Cohen said including Dolezal in the event would help emphasize the values that King championed during his life, including unconditional love, forgiveness and equality for all.
“We are not trying to win everybody, but we are trying to remind everyone what the true values are in life,” he said. “When we talk about MLK, we talk about a man that sacrificed his life to make sure that equality was experienced for all man and that justice was given and forgiveness.”
He said he also believed the event would give people “the opportunity to see her in a different light,” because they will get to hear parts of Dolezal’s story that have never been reported in the media.
Councilwoman Lori Bush disagreed with Frantz, saying she believed Dolezal may be the spark that is needed to draw out an open discussion about racism.
“Racism, despite what people may say, is not dead. We see it every day, and the only way to confront it is to talk about it,” she said. “I think she has an interesting story, and despite whatever preconceived notions we might have about her, it’s still relevant.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608, @KTrogdon