It’s been a rough few weeks for many people living in the Flathead Valley. First, several families and businesses faced a barrage of hate-filled, anti-Semitic phone calls and messages. Then, a group of neo-Nazis threatened an armed march against the city of Whitefish.
The birthday of one of the country’s most celebrated civil rights leaders fell in the middle of this chain of events, a coincidence that many who attended Love Lives Here’s tenth annual Martin Luther King Day celebrations in Whitefish and Kalispell this week found poignant.
"The civil rights movement is not something that happened in the past," Bruce Guthrie said.
Guthrie is a teacher at Flathead High School in Kalispell, and co-organizer of this year’s event at the school.
"The civil rights movement has been with us since July 4, 1776 and it never went away. It's still with us today, and it is going to be with us as long as there are marginalized people on earth," he said.
The two-evening multimedia presentation, called “Dear Mr. President: These are Our Dreams for the Future,” showcased performances by local musicians and readings by students and faith leaders peppered with quotes from King’s speeches and sermons.
"Dear Mr. President," under your presidency, Donald, I will become an adult," Claire Bradley says.
"I hope to mature in a society where i don't have to disown my culture and my race to succeed," Carolina Sierra says.
"And I hope in these next decades, in these next few four years, we will make changes that will endure for centuries," Noah Love says.
"I'm wishing you a presidency which will eliminate racism and discrimination based on gender or based on religion, minimize the wage gap, and bring this country happiness and peace," Talha Idiz says.
"My hope is that you and your administration recognize the importance of the environment and take the necessary steps to fix it... I hope that we can provide healthcare to all, and I hope we can continue to grow as the greatest nation in the world," Claire Bradley says.
"I challenge you to follow through with your promises….find your resolutions, push for your goals, and make the great deals you're always talking about. I hope God blesses you and God blesses America," Noah Love says.
The Mountain View Mennonite Church recognized the Whitefish City Council with its annual Peace Award, for its efforts to make the Flathead Valley a place of peace and harmony.
"This recognition is not really about Whitefish council, but it is about all of you, the good citizens of this valley, who have stood up and spoken out against hate, racism, sexism, homophobia and bigotry, and then you asked your elected officials to do the same," councilman Richard Hildner says.
Threats of an armed march against Whitefish never materialized Monday afternoon. A few hundred people attended the “Dear Mr. President” event held Monday night at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center and Tuesday at Flathead High School.
The centerpiece of both evenings was an excerpt from King’s own reading of his final sermon, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., just days before he was assassinated in 1968.
"We are tied together in the single garment of destiny," King said, "caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured," King said.
Eva Maxwell, from Kalispell, says this year’s event was especially heartfelt because:
"Oh, the election and everything. to show up at these things seems incredibly important. because if we don't, things i think are going to go in a direction we won't like. and to have our voices heard is important and to be here is important," Maxwell says.
Her husband Max added, "We're at a time of big big change. and i think that was really a theme here, that things are changing, so it's good to look back, to be able to look forward, too."
This post has been edited to say the Mountain View Mennonite Church, not Love Lives Here, awarded Whitefish City Council with the Peace Award.