Fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. gave his most celebrated speech, "I Have a Dream," local writers and poets continue to celebrate his legacy.
On a recent Wednesday night, Atlantic City native Raymond Tyler hosted a poetry workshop as a tribute to King, held at the Atlantic City Free Public Library.
The founder of Dark Seed Communications and a contributor of The Little Wellness Arts Center has facilitated similar programs in the past, but wanted his most recent workshop to focus on more than King's most famous words, allowing for open discussion among participants.
"The importance of (the workshop) is to go beyond what's typically talked about during this time of year," Tyler said. "We (have the) opportunity to hear from different writers and artists … and also have them write something new, fresh, today, now with regards to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King."
The workshop, which drew an intimate group of five, was the first of the various events to be held that week at the Atlantic City library to commemorate King, said Don Latham, the library's public information officer.
"We often offer poetry workshops," Latham said. "With the Martin Luther King Day holiday approaching, we thought this would be a really interesting way for people to express themselves and celebrate his legacy. It's important to take time to remember what he stood for and the impact he made on our nation."
Tyler wanted to see how the group was affected by both King's message and his life, before and after his death in 1968, he said.
"I think it's important to keep his memory alive as well as memories of any prominent Americans that fought for peace," he said.
Jerry Haden, 23, of Atlantic City attended the workshop and read off his cue card after the group was asked to write down five words that came to mind relating to King. "Peacekeeper, advocate, activist, author, artist," Haden said.
The young writer came out to start a discussion relating to Martin Luther King Jr. and beyond, but primarily to see if people shared similar feelings.
"I'm a poet, and I love poetry, plus … I just wanted to see if people agreed with my same point of view and mentality on certain issues," he said.
Haden, who writes on topics of death, love and black history, posed the question to the group, "What does color have to do with anything?"
Often the session became an open forum for discussion on related present-day issues involving race, including Trayvon Martin's death, but the group also reflected on the past, especially the Montgomery bus boycott.
Tyler invited the group to recite any original work they had prepared.
Former teacher Cole Eubanks, of Mays Landing, shared his poem, "Angel From Harper's Ferry," which read as an imaginary conversation between abolitionist John Brown and King.
Local Ventnor author Leesa Toscano wrote a piece that night relating to friendship, and she shared it with her fellow writers.
The group knew that whatever they wrote or recited could not be wrong, because the overall purpose was to be expressive.
"There are no rules in poetry," Haden said, as he finished up writing a new poem. "I say be individualistic. That's all that matters."
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