Ashland’s 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration will honor the legacy of the late civil rights leader and celebrate the Rogue Valley’s vibrant community.

This year, organizers aren’t holding anything back. The event’s theme is “Power-Justice-Love for All,” inspired by King’s 1967 speech “Where Do We Go from Here?” In that speech, King said “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Paul Collins, a volunteer on the MLK celebration committee, says a lot of consideration went into choosing this year’s theme.

“We wanted a theme that was relevant to today. This is not just a look back at history. We chose a quote that suggests action and moving forward,” Collins says. “There has been a lot of horrible rhetoric lately, and this is our chance to come together and to respond with love — to show we can all do better for one another, that we can do better for our kids.”

This year’s observance of King's birthday will be held at noon Monday, Jan. 16, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St. Doors open at 11:30. Admission is free, and community members are encouraged to bring a nonperishable food items to donate to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.

Collins reminds community members that if the armory is full, a live simulcast will be screened at the Varisty Theatre on East Main Street for overflow visitors.

“We fill up the Varsity, too," Collins says. "We have a whole team making sure no one misses anything.”

Every year, there is an amazingly broad spectrum of the community coming together, Collins says.

"Schools, artists, the city itself, OSF makes a huge contribution, and so many volunteers. The lineup of events reflects the valley as well as a broad view of civil rights. What’s really nice is that there is not a lot of beating over the head with morality. It’s simply our friends and neighbors stepping forward and being creative with a good message. It’s both important and fun.”

Historian D.L. Richardson will emcee the celebration with sign-language interpreters throughout. This year’s keynote speech will be delivered by Alma Rosa Alvarez. Alvarez is a professor of English at Southern Oregon University, where she teaches a number of courses, including U.S. ethnic literature. She works to expose students to a diversity of experiences and to facilitate empathy and community connections. Alvarez is a long-time advocate for social justice in the valley, working with her local Catholic church, St. Vincent de Paul and the Racial Equity Coalition.

The celebration will offer a variety of tributes to King and his legacy through music, poetry and dance. Performances include a song from Walker Elementary School students; Ashland High School student Grace Pruitt will share a spoken-word piece on microaggressions; Phoenix Sigalove and Brent Florendo will offer a performance in resonance with the Standing Rock protests; Ashland Middle School students will perform a spoken-word piece; Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors will perform a reading from the “After Orlando” collection in honor of the Orlando nightclub shooting victims; former poet laureate Lawson Inada will share a poem about Japanese internment; the Heartisan Foundation, a nonprofit children’s advocate and empowerment center, will share a short video; Rabbi Joshua Boettiger will share a poem about anti-Semitism; dancers from Ashland Danceworks will perform; singers from Souliverse will perform R&B; and more.

After the celebration, visitors can march to the Ashland Plaza, where there will be a rebroadcast of King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, as well as a special event organized by AHS students.

“We’re having people bring paper hearts to the Plaza, and we’re encouraging everyone to decorate or write messages on them, particularly messages of inclusion or actions to interrupt oppression,” Collins says. “We’ll hold up the hearts on the Plaza for an aerial photograph of our community opening their hearts.”

Later, Ashland Interfaith Clergy Circle will host an exploration of power, love and faith at 7 p.m. at Ashland First Congregational United Church of Christ, 717 Siskiyou Blvd.

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Angela Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at