Kathryn Fentress captivated the audience at the Mothers of the Movement event with her message of love and acceptance she learned directly from Martin Luther King Jr. himself. The crowd grew silent as Fentress began her story of engagement in the Civil Rights Movement.
Fentress was one of many speakers who presented to a crowd of eager listeners at the Mothers of the Movement event at Mt. Baker Theatre on Monday, Jan. 21, an event commemorating and honoring the women who fought during the civil rights era. The speakers at the event celebrated King’s legacy and how the Bellingham community is working toward his dream of equality.
“[King] lifted our spirits, challenged our minds and he spoke to our hearts,” she said.
The Mothers of the Movement event featured performances by the Kulshan Chorus, The Jefferson Sisters and Bellingham Repertory Dance. A number of speakers were present at the event, including Fentress, who marched alongside other activists during the Civil Rights Movement.
Monea Kerr, City of Bellingham Legislative Assistant and co-organizer of the event, said the goal of the event was to be inclusive of all members of the community who want to celebrate the legacy of King, while also being a safe haven for people of color in the community, she said.
“This event will show women and girls of color that they can go do the things they want to do regardless of if it is normally done by someone who looks like them,” Kerr said.
Fentress had the opportunity to cross paths with King during the civil rights era, and told the audience he made a lasting impact on her life.
“My time with him was brief, but the man and his wisdom had guided me my entire life,” Fentress said.
Fentress described a meeting she had with King and a community of civil rights activists at a church in St. Augustine, Florida in 1964. The local black community had been demonstrating and getting arrested and beaten for a year-and-a half by then, she said.
At the time, the sheriff and the deputies were called the Klu Klux Klan, Fentress said. King was invited by the activist community to encourage and aid them in their protest.
The civil rights activist community had a few days to strategize with the help of King, and they planned a campaign to fill the jails on charges of civil disobedience, she said.
They had to meet in different churches to hear King speak every time they met because people would go through the black neighborhoods and open-fire into people’s homes. The place where King was supposed to stay was firebombed, she said.
Fentress, alongside King and other protesters, was arrested on charges of civil disobedience during the protest.
King had a gift with words, but she thinks his real power came from his faith and his vision of the world, Fentress said.
“He said to us, I’m going to ask you to march for freedom. I’m going to ask you to go out into the night and face the anger of the people in this community. But don’t go unless you have love in your heart,” Fentress said. “I’m going to ask you to march and face the possible violence of these people, but don’t go unless you have looked into their faces and know them to be your brothers and sisters. I’m going to ask you to march, but don’t go unless you have love in your heart because it is love that is needed to heal this community.”
It is love that is needed to heal this country and this world, Fentress added.
Many other speakers took to the stage of the Mt. Baker Theatre to talk about their experiences and the importance of King’s message in the community.
“This is the kind of message that I want to bring into the classroom,” said attendee Mikaela Michalson, a Sociology major at Western in the Elementary Education program, “It’s so easy to feel such anger about the injustice in our world and taking that energy to action is so important.”
Jazzmyn Hannah, local liberator and organizer with Black Lives Matter Bellingham, read Maya Angelou’s poem, Caged Bird.
Hannah took a charging breath, and the whole room took another breath with her as she began the poem.
“A bird that stalks down his narrow cage, can seldom see through his bars of rage, his wings are clipped, her wings are clipped, her wings have been clipped,” she said. “I am carrying this pain, will you hold it for me?”
“Yes, we will,” the audience responded collectively.
Many other speakers highlighted the importance of community in the fight for equality and in King’s message.
The band Thunderbirds Raised Her, also known as the Jefferson Sisters of the Lummi Tribe, expressed their desire for King’s dream of change and peace in our society.
“He not only stood for his people, beautiful colored people, but he stood for all,” said Katherine Jefferson. “As people, we need to come together and be equal and stand as one so our power can break through racism and break through hate and anger, and I think that is what makes America.”
The event also featured eighth-grader Eleanor May, who gave a speech she wrote about the Civil Rights Movement for her class.
“Today, we honor the sacrifices of those before us,” May said. “We also acknowledge that the future is in our hands. It is now our responsibility to build a better tomorrow. It is our turn to fight for equality.”
Poet Fialaui’a Lamositele, another speaker at the event, said society needs to follow the leadership of the younger generations. The younger generation can make the world what they want to see, she said.
“It’s so important,” Lamositele said. “This is your world, what do you want to see? What do you want it to look like?”