The Grand Junction celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day is going up a notch this year, thanks to the efforts of Black Citizens and Friends Mesa County.

“We’ve turned it into a valley-wide celebration,” said David Combs, president of Black Citizens and Friends and chairman of its Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Committee. Events in the 2020 celebration began with a proclamation reading in Fruita on Jan. 7 and will continue through Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 20.

The theme for the 2020 celebration is “We are the Change,” and it includes essay and poster contests for students as well as film screenings — see “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “Harriet” at Avalon Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 18 — a poetry slam, commemorative march and more that can be found at various locations in the Grand Valley.

And while not everyone will be able to attend all the events, the organizing committee is hopeful many residents will make it a point to be at one or two to honor King and his legacy of fighting for civil rights and against poverty, Combs said.

One of this year’s events that has really pulled at Combs’ heartstrings is the Evening of Readings on Tuesday, Jan. 14, at Lithic Bookstore and Gallery in Fruita.

Nearly everyone knows King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he said — “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream ...”

That speech was landmark, but “there are so many other things that he spoke of and wrote,” Combs said.

Those speeches and writings will be featured at the Lithic reading to be discovered or rediscovered by all who attend, he said.

Another event Combs is excited about is the Neighbors Read story time on Thursday, Jan. 16, at Mesa County Libraries’ Central Library.

Sitting through a speech might be difficult for little children, but a story time that brings King’s message to their level can be eye-opening for children, he said, recalling a past story time in which one of the activities involved dividing the group in two and only one group was given candy.

The children understood the idea of discrimination quite quickly, he said.

For older children and adults who are able to sit through a speech, there will be an evening celebration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 20, at the Love Recital Hall in the Moss Performing Arts Center at Colorado Mesa University with keynote speaker Reo N. Leslie Jr., an ordained pastor and founder and director of the Colorado School for Family Therapy in Aurora.

He will be speaking about “how each of us can be a part of change in our culture,” Combs said. “We are really fortunate to have him.”

“We are looking forward to it,” Combs said.

And after the busyness of this celebration has passed, Black Citizens and Friends will start planning for 2021.

“We have some grandiose plans for the future,” Combs said.

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