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Charles City and Be the Bridge to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

By Kelly Terpstra,

Charles City will join in commemorating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.

A program titled “Honoring the Dream” will be held in the Zastrow Room of the Charles City Public Library beginning at 10:30 a.m. Monday. Doors will open at 10 a.m.

The program is being put on by Be the Bridge, a racial reconciliation group designed to create unity, peace and love in Charles City. It was founded by Phillip Knighten in 2016.

“He’s definitely a hero – not only in the African American community but in the country as a whole,” Knighten said about King.

Charles City and Be the Bridge to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
Phillip Knighten

Knighten was recently elected to the Charles City Council and became the first African American to hold that post in Charles City. He talked about the significance of the Monday holiday.

“There is not a program in Charles City to honor Dr. King, so we had to take it upon ourselves to do something to honor the legacy of Dr. King – especially in our political climate right now,” he said.

This is the second time Be the Bridge and other members of the community have held a program to remember King. Be the Bridge paid homage to King’s efforts to combat racial inequality with a similar program in 2017 at the Columbus Club. Those in attendance, around 60 to 75 people according to Knighten, then marched across the suspension bridge just off Clark Street.

Knighten said he hopes for a bigger turnout for the program this year, which will include a march over the pedestrian walking bridge just past the library that leads to Kwik Star.

The march is a symbolic reminder of the Selma to Montgomery protest marches in Alabama in 1965 that were organized by non-violent activists, including King. King led the second of the three marches that took place in March of that year, almost 55 years ago.

Knighten said the program Monday will start with a prayer by a local clergy member and will feature audio and video tributes to King. There will be a short biography read about King and a brief background of Be the Bridge will let people know about the group. Knighten also said the Charles City Singers will perform.

“The most significant part of it, though, will be at the end, and that’s the symbolic march across the pedestrian bridge,” Knighten said.

Also, he said, smiling, “We have a couple surprises in there I don’t necessarily want to give away yet.”

Knighten addressed the reaction of some people in the community about the decision by the Floyd County Board of Supervisors to change one of the county’s paid holidays from MLK Jr. Day to Presidents Day, a move county officials said was to more evenly spread out the time between holidays.

“Last week I talked to Roy Schwickerath and I gave him an invitation to the program,” Knighten said. “He mentioned that they may have perhaps a proclamation. At that point I definitely offered a spot in the program for those guys to present that proclamation – kind of like an olive branch.”

Schwickerath, currently the chairman of the Floyd County Board of Supervisors, and Supervisor Linda Tjaden agreed at their Monday meeting this week to pass and read a proclamation on equal rights at their meeting next Monday. Supervisor Doug Kamm was not at the meeting.

The proclamation notes the contributions of King and of Charles City’s own Carrie Chapman Catt to the issues of equal rights and civil rights.

Knighten said he hopes the county board revisits its decision on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

“It’s an ongoing situation and it’s probably something that they may need to address a little bit more than they have,” he said.

“As far as the program goes, it has nothing to do with the move that the supervisors made. This is a program that was dreamt up and is put on to honor Dr. King and Dr. King alone. It has nothing to do with the political climate or settings within Charles City or the country as a whole. This is just something that we feel is necessary to honor the contributions that Martin Luther King gave to this country as a whole,” said Knighten.

“It just seemed like a void that needed to be filled and that’s what we’re doing,” he said. “This program is about honoring Dr. King and about unity and things along that line. We don’t intend for anything about it to be controversial, unless civil rights and celebration of a man who dedicated his life and lost his life because of the struggle of civil rights — if that’s controversial to you then this program is not for you, but that’s what the program is for.”

Knighten said Be the Bridge has been on a bit of hiatus in the past year but there is effort by many in the community to re-energize the group. He said the King program is kind of the kickoff to that happening.

Knighten said the next meeting of Be the Bridge will be held in the Zastrow Room of the Charles City Public Library from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

He said the meetings are an opportunity for anyone interested to talk about race relations within Charles City or surrounding communities.

“That’s where Be the Bridge comes into play,” said Knighten. “We discuss issues relating to race, racial harmony and try to reconcile those differences and come together and grow. People don’t realize how much they have in common until they can get together with each other and meet with each other. You realize once you’re sitting talking to a person from a different culture or community.”