Martin Luther King Jr. Day for many Franklin residents normally involves church pews packed like sardines, songs of celebration, perhaps a few tears shed and a frigid yet spirited walk from Natchez Street to the Franklin Public Square.
This year, with the community's health in mind, First Missionary Baptist Church will hold its MLK Day ceremony virtually.
On Monday, Jan. 18 — three days after what would have been King’s 92nd birthday — First Missionary Baptist is inviting the community to join the celebration of King’s life and legacy on the church’s Facebook page, where Kenneth Hill, the pastor of Shorter Chapel AME Church in Franklin, will be the featured speaker.
This year, the theme of the event is “eradicating poverty.” First Missionary Baptist Pastor Timothy Gaines said poverty has always been prevalent in Franklin and Williamson County, even though the county is not typically considered impoverished.
“Especially during the season of COVID-19, we just thought that it was just appropriate. People have been going through but they are especially going through some serious issues in dealing with poverty now, during this season,” he said.
King spoke about poverty often and during many of his famous speeches, as it was a key focus in his fight against inequality. He famously organized the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, which sought justice for those in poverty.
“I still have a dream that one day all of God’s children will have food and clothing and material well-being for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, and freedom for their spirits,” King said during his speech entitled “The American Dream,” delivered in 1963 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
In conjunction with the virtual event, the church will hold a drive-thru food distribution for those in need in partnership with One Generation Away.
Gaines said while this event will be virtual, he looks forward to the coming together of Franklin’s diverse community.
“One thing that I’ve always been proud of doing MLK Day is that it never represented one particular race,” he said. “It seemed like that one time of the year, that one time that we all came together as a unified group. I think that’s what’s going to make it special, especially considering that we’re putting this thing together with poverty on the forefront. But our goal is to use our voices on Monday to wake up all groups of people and set aside all of our differences so we can attack that one major goal.”
Gaines noted poverty affects all races and demographics, so he hopes the community can come together to support those who are experiencing an economic struggle.
“If we’re going to make effective change, it’s not just going to take the Black church,” he said. “It’s going to take the Black church, the white church, the Baptist church, the Methodist church and on and on … to really put a dent in this.”
The virtual event will take place on the First Missionary Baptist Church Facebook page at 11 a.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 18.
The food distribution will begin at noon following the event, and those wishing to receive food can begin lining up their cars at the church parking lot at 113 Natchez Street in Franklin at 11:45 a.m.