Governor, Eastpointe mayor to headline MLK Day breakfast

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published January 6, 2020

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MACOMB COUNTY — For more than 15 years, the United Together Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast has brought the Macomb County community together to celebrate King’s message and find ways to realize his lessons in the community today.

This year, the event will be headlined by two special guests: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Eastpointe Mayor Monique Owens, the county’s first African American mayor.

The breakfast is organized by the Macomb County Ministerial Alliance.

“We’ve been doing this for more than 15 years,” said the Rev. Terence Standifer, the president of the alliance. “Originally, it was several churches from different Macomb County cities coming together to do something for Martin Luther King Day so the community could come together and give people opportunities to meet each other.”

Standifer said that the program is not just about honoring King, but about putting his message into action.

“One of the things Martin Luther King was known for was his fight to encourage people to take advantage of their civil rights, and some people even today aren’t aware of what those rights are,” Standifer said. “Our organization tries to get individuals to register for voting and take advantage of that right. By bringing the community together, it can give you a different view of this community, its leaders, its courts. This lets people meet the people in those areas.”

Owens said she wants to focus on King’s legacy and that many of the things he worked for still need to be addressed today.

“The topic of the event is Martin Luther King, so we will be talking about him and his legacy. I want to focus on the things he saw in his life and the things I have seen while campaigning and being elected as mayor, and put those together,” she said. “I think it needs to be discussed that things he was seeing in the 1960s are things we are still seeing today in 2020. I was the first African American mayor in Macomb County history. It took this long to get here.”

Both Standifer  and Owens expressed how happy they were that Whitmer accepted the invitation to join them at the event.

“I believe God opened up the door,” Standifer said. “We had chosen a theme of unity this year, and we offered the governor the opportunity to speak, and she responded to say she could speak at the event. This widens the scope from our county working together to all of Michigan working together.”

Owens said she looks forward to hearing the governor speak but hopes that Whitmer and other leaders in Lansing are just as willing to listen to Macomb County leaders and residents.

“I think her being a part of it is great,” Owens said. “I think it’s important to hear what the governor has to say, but I think it’s equally important that she gets the opportunity to hear what people like myself have to say. You need those conversations where people from different backgrounds who have dealt with different challenges can sit down and share their life experiences. You need to get these different people in the same room like this.”

People from all over Macomb County will be in attendance.

“People will have breakfast, and then our guest speakers will be onstage. A few other guests will be there from the communities, such as this very talented young violinist — Isabella Vesprini — who will perform. We always try to do something for the youth at the breakfast. Last year, we had an essay contest, so this year we will be having a raffle of artwork from the civil rights movement to raise money for youth in the community to go to college.”

Owens said the legacy of King may be more important today than ever and that the day set aside to remember him is a great time to look around and assess how far society has progressed, as well as look at how far it has to go.

“I hope people will open their minds and hearts and not look at color. These are the things Martin Luther King wanted, and we are still talking about it years later,” Owens said. “People are still making trailblazing changes today. … I made history just this last year by being the first black mayor of Eastpointe. I hope this shows people we can still be making a difference and hopefully empower them.”

Standifer expressed that he thinks the breakfast is a wonderful expression of the love for all people that King felt.

“People don’t want to miss this,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for anyone in the community. One of the things Martin Luther King always stressed was that he looked forward to the day when all people can come together regardless of race or creed, and this, I think, is an example of that dream being realized.”

The breakfast will begin at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 20 at the MacRay Harbor Hall, located at 30675 North River Road in Harrison Township. Tickets for the event are available by calling (586) 463-9430. They cost $30 for adults, $10 for students or $300 for a full table.