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Lorain leaders, activists recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Originally Published in The Chronicle-Telegram January 18, 2022

LORAIN — On the eve of the U.S. Senate starting debates on a new voting rights bill, community activists in Lorain recognized the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on Monday.

The Lorain Interfaith Association and Intrafaith Ministries of Lorain County hosted an MLK Day celebration via Zoom, with the bulk of the discussion focusing on the new voting rights legislation.

U.S. Senate Democrats will debate legislation that combines the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — both previously passed by the House — starting today.

Lorain Mayor Jack Bradley hopes legislators “get some guts” and decide the legislation is “too important not to pass,” he said during Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.

“To honor Dr. King, we can’t step backwards,” he said.

Oberlin resident Greg Coleridge, outreach director for Move to Amend, agreed.

King’s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" confirms the man’s place as a radical, focused on systemic changes, Coleridge said.

King looked at the root of things, Coleridge said, and legislators and activists must take that same approach now.

“'We the people' has never been 'all the people,'" he said. Voter suppression tactics have long kept people from being involved in protecting the right to vote, as some feel the current democracy is not worth defending. And those tactics have become more blatant, with the Republican Party out front, he said.

The legislation in Congress now, the Right to Vote Act, includes expanding what can be used as voter identification, restores voting rights to felons when released from prison and requires pre-clearance of voter laws in states that have a history of discriminatory voting practices, he said.

He said he understands individuals’ skepticism on the relevance of voting, as many feel their state and federal legislators don’t represent their interests or pass laws that help in their day-to-day lives.

“On the other hand, while voting isn’t sufficient, it’s necessary,” he said. He implored attendees to call U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, who has voted against partisan voting reforms in the past. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, has previously spoken in support of his party’s voting rights acts, including recorded remarks shown Monday at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Oberlin.

While sparking lengthy discussion, the issue of voting rights was far from the only topic presented at “The Cry for Universal Justice” on Monday.

Lorain County Public Health Director Mark Adams touched on misinformation and the pandemic, noting there is a disconnect continuing where people are seeking advice not from experts but from YouTube videos and social media.

The omicron variant continues to overcrowd hospitals, he said. While death rates for COVID-19 aren’t as high as before, the current variant is making people sick faster, he said.

Lorain County’s vaccination rate is very high, he said, without the assistance from federal or state-run vaccination efforts — it’s been just LCPH and 33 partnered pharmacies getting just shy of 65 percent of the county vaccinated, according to state data.

Tonya Birney with Lorain County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board said COVID-19, violence in the community and other trials can get individuals bogged down with a lack of breath.

While young people are just surviving, health care and mental health professionals are struggling to balance a workforce shortage with the community’s need. She said community members must come together to support one another — service providers can’t do it alone.

Genesis House’s Virginia Beckman touched on one cause of trauma: lives lost to domestic violence, including the 11 individuals killed between 2020 and 2021.

The first month of 2022, Milenna Lopez, 24, of Lorain, was killed at the Sheffied McDonald’s where she worked. The man wanted in connection with her slaying, James Kimbrough III, is the father of two of her children and had violated several protection orders against him by Lopez, according to police and court records.

Beckman questioned how much money does society funnel into the justice system — police, judges, bailiffs and corrections officers — for women she works with to have to come to terms with the fact that their abuser will murder them.

“No matter what they do to try to save their own life, they come to a level of acceptance in their own fate,” she said.

Imam Hasan noted, “If we’re not protecting our women, we’re derelict in our duty.”

Khalid Samad, president of Peace in the Hood in Cleveland, offered holistic solutions to holistic problems. He, and his staff, work with young Black men to provide mentorship, often to those coming from single-parent households.

One of his mentees, Eric Jefferies, said his mother tried to be everything — as his birth father wasn’t in their home for very long — but it left him confused and not understanding what a man was or is supposed to be. When he met Samad, he said he began learning what it is to be a man — handling situations calmly, being humble and knowing oneself before speaking on others, he said.

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