How can Fort Wayne be a more ‘welcoming’ city?

On June 5, 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a capacity crowd at the Scottish Rite Cathedral and denounced what he described as “ongoing de facto-segregation in Midwest cities like Fort Wayne.”

Now, 56 years later, his eldest son and namesake Martin Luther King, III, will return to the city on June 5, 2019, to challenge Fort Wayne’s community to keep fighting for racial reconciliation and social stabilization.

Rev. Bill McGill, Senior Pastor of Imani Baptist Temple, is the convener of the event. He says commemorating Dr. King’s sole speaking visit in Fort Wayne provides a golden opportunity for earnest and honest reflection by the entire community on the remaining work before us.

“There is no denying that our city is on the cusp of becoming great,” McGill says. “But honesty requires that we admit to still carrying some dangerous and poisonous racial freight. We are working very hard to become a city of destination, but to accomplish that, we must be recognized as a city that’s welcoming and united against discrimination.”

McGill met Dr. King by chance when he was 10-years-old at a rally in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Being raised by a hardworking and socially active single mother, McGill says he “adopted” Dr. King as his father and role model growing up.

At that chance encounter, Dr. King told him: “I see greatness in you, Young Man.”

These words left a lasting impression on McGill, who still feels responsible to carry on King’s flame.

As a Fort Wayne reverend, McGill believes the city has done a good job of celebrating King’s dream with annual walks and public tributes, like the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge downtown.

“But celebration is easier than replication,” McGill notes.

Addressing this point, King’s son will speak at the Embassy Theatre in a free, but ticketed, event at 7 p.m. on June 5 called “Sharing His Name & Carrying His Flame.” The event serves as a reminder of the work that the local community has yet to do to ignite the progress of unification across all races and religions in the Fort Wayne area.

To ensure a racially and religiously diverse audience, an equal number of tickets will be dispersed among the various faith traditions across our community, McGill says. Jaki Schreir, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, is pleased to be a co-sponsor of the event.

“In an hour when anti-Semitism is running rampant across our nation and abroad, the inclusive message of Dr. King is needed now more than ever,” Schreir says.

Helping to bring a celebratory tone to the evening will be two legendary Gospel vocalists, Ms. Yolanda Adams and Lady Tramaine Hawkins.

Donations from PNC Bank, Parkview Health, and Sweetwater have made the event free of change to guests. However, a free-will offering will be taken to support the ongoing work of the social services organization, One Church-One Offender, Inc.

"Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to Fort Wayne more than 50 years ago made history and left a lasting impact on our community,” says Heather Herron, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Sweetwater. “Sweetwater honors his legacy and is proud to support a day of remembrance. We hope his message of unity continues to live on.”

“Sharing His Name & Carrying His Flame”

7 p.m. June 5 at Embassy Theatre

Admission is free, but tickets are required and available at the Embassy's box office or through local churches and organizations.

To have your church congregation or organization considered for tickets, contact the Rev. Bill McGill at 410-3430 or by email at [email protected].

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Jennifer Norris-Hale.

Jennifer Norris-Hale is a boomerang resident of Fort Wayne. She graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Apparel Merchandising and was in the apparel industry for over 10 years, spending most of that time building a career in Manhattan. Since returning to Fort Wayne in 2015 she has continued developing her true passion in philanthropy as the founder of The Greater Good Fort Wayne. She is a board member for Middle Waves and the Youth Services Bureau. Most importantly, she is a mother of three boys and truly enjoys getting them out and about to enjoy all that Fort Wayne has to offer.