Martin Luther King Day is Fannie Dean’s longest day of the year.
It’s also her favorite.
“It brings me joy,” said Dean, organizer of Oak Harbor’s MLK celebration for many years.
Oak Harbor’s celebration of Dr. King was started by a group of students and faculty of Skagit Valley College, which subsequently formed into a group called the Oak Harbor Black Citizens Association.
The group held the first celebration at First Baptist Church in 1986 and continued organizing a tribute for years.
While Monday is the federal holiday honoring Dr. King’s Jan. 15 birthday, most events on Whidbey Island take place over the weekend.
At Mission Ministry Outreach where Dean is pastor, the annual tribute begins 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Mission Ministry is located at 1751 Goldie Road across from Garage of Blessings. House of Prayer, led by Pastor Charles Boyle Jr., also participates.
Dr. King was fatally shot April 4, 1968 while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
He was 39.
Marking the 50th anniversary of his death, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is hosting a year-long commemoration called MLK50: Where Do We Go From Here?
In the late 1980s, when Dean first participated in MLK Day events in Oak Harbor, people marched in a parade, honoring both the man and his civil rights message, she said.
But over the years, the celebration grew smaller and smaller until it fit into a hour-long Sunday sermon at Mission Ministry. Meanwhile, MLK events expanded in other locations across the country.
“People ask me ‘Why y’all keep doing it?’” Dean admitted.
“We do it because he had a way for all people to come together, because of the love he had,” said Dean, a Georgia transplant who never lost her Southern congeniality and colloquialism.
“I look forward to seeing the legacy that come up behind Dr. King.”
Dean leads a small but passionate group of volunteers who pitch in every year for the spiritual tribute that includes a choir, musicians, dancers and a sermon. All are welcome to attend, Dean said.
Jendayi Stafford, who performs what’s known as Praise Dance, said the MLK tribute is particularly meaningful to her.
“His fight for civil rights and the fact he was a pastor, that’s why the MLK sermon is different,” she said.
“The strength of compassion” will be Sunday’s topic of prayer, Dean said.
“It seems like we’re going backward instead of forward,” she observed. “There is so much discontent.”
Friday at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Dean is scheduled to lead a tribute for the slain civil rights leader.
South Whidbey is also readying itself for numerous events celebrating Dr. King’s work, values and impact.
“Martin Luther King Jr. is as relevant today as any time before because we’re facing efforts to take away certain rights,” said Dick Hall, organizer of a program at St. Augustine-In-The-Woods in Freeland.
“Voter suppression, incarceration of people of color and white nationalism are all seen today,” he said.
St. Augustine’s 13th annual MLK Day event “Blessed are the Peace Makers” begins at 3 p.m. Sunday. Its theme is “Effective Resistance: from Rosa Parks to the Women’s March.”
Trinity Lutheran Church Minister of Music, Karl Olsen, is planning to perform gospel music and movements in the program. A speech from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu will also be read; Landrieu gave the speech against white supremacy as his city removed Confederate statues.
Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley is hosting a performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday that combines theater with archival film, called “The Right to Dream.”
The performance is from award-winning Seattle “historical theater troupe,” Living Voices, that tells an African-American student’s coming of age story in Mississippi during the 1950s and 1960s.
On Jan. 15, Whidbey Island Friends Meeting is showing a video of King’s speech delivered from Riverside Church, “Beyond Vietnam.”