The Lift Every Voice Legacy (LEVL) hosted its fourth annual tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday evening.
Led by LEVL founder Donnie Griffin, the evening program — “If I Can Help Somebody” — was a mix of reflections, stories, songs and dancing.
Seattle theologian Dr. Brian Bantum was the first on stage, sharing reflections of King’s life. He asked the crowd, “Who will we be?” Bantum touched on how many of us feel called to something, yet we do nothing about it. Usually, he said, it’s because we don’t feel as skilled or as gifted as people such as King.
“He was also just a man,” said Bantum, adding that King didn’t have anything more than any of the people in the audience. In fact, Bantum proposed that King was so successful because of the people who invested in him, loved him and supported him — the people who helped him.
The Josephine Howell Band took the stage after that, with a chilling song titled, “If I Can Help Somebody.”
The Barclay Shelton Dance Centre Troupe performed an interpretive dance centered around hope, touching on the idea that helping just one other person can bring hope to generations to come.
Sean Goode from Choose 180 — a restorative justice nonprofit in King County — told the story of the Good Samaritan, linking it to both King’s life as well as present day. Goode talked about the disdain Samaritans and Jews had for each other, yet when the Samaritan saw the Jewish man lying on the side of the road in desperate need of help, he put aside his pride and stepped in to help.
“Everyone during the civil rights movement just needed someone to help,” said Goode.
Drawing the same conclusion as Bantum did earlier in the evening, Goode said that King only made it as far as he did because someone helped. He explained that we are all capable of doing what King did, but we all need a little help from others without judgment. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan man didn’t wonder how the Jewish man ended up in his situation. He didn’t judge him, and he didn’t only offer to help if he got a good explanation as to what happened. None of that mattered to him; he helped simply because he knew he should.
“I just need someone to stop and help and not ask how I got there,” said Goode. “Everybody needs somebody. And we’ve all had somebody in our lives [that stopped and helped].”
Goode went on to question the audience: Should we do what we can, or should we let where we fall short interfere with what we are being called to do?
As the audience considered Goode’s question, the Josephine Howell Band came back on stage, accompanied by the Greater Everett MLK Celebration Ensemble.
Two Beloved Community Awards were handed out toward the end of the evening. The first recipient was Edmonds resident Leilani Miller, the executive director of Millenia Ministries, a Snohomish County-based organization dedicated to securing the stability of children.
Miller’s work in the community provides services to clients throughout Snohomish County including Edmonds, Montlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Mill Creek and Lake Stevens, and is rooted in her life experiences. Since January 2021, Millennia Ministries has provided 15 housing referrals; delivered groceries to 2,120 seniors; supplied 8,480 meals and provided emergency hotel stays for 114 community members in need.
The second Beloved Community Award was given to the Mountlake Terrace-based Concern for Neighbors Food Bank. Originally started to help the community for a week or two while times were tough in the 1970s, Concern for Neighbors just celebrated 50 years of service in 2021.
The evening closed with a special thanks to the event’s two main sponsors: the Hazel Miller Foundation and the Community Foundation of Snohomish County. The Josephine Howell Band came back on to play a closing song that got the entire crowd on their feet.
— Story and photos by Lauren Reichenbach