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‘MLK Birthday Bash’ challenges students

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It was an abbreviated ceremony due to COVID-19, but that didn’t stop a large crowd from celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Bash at Harrison High School on Friday.

Students and faculty lined the Goblin Arena in physically-distanced fashion as speakers took to the gym floor for speeches and some fun as well.

DuShun Scarbrough, executive director of the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission hosting the event, told the crowd about his 10 years visiting the area.

“Every time we come to Harrison, Arkansas, we are greeted with open arms and we thank you so much for that,” Scarbrough said.

He said Friday’s ceremony highlighted the mission of the commission to carry on King’s legacy of service and education to help future generations carry on that torch in their own lives.

Scarbrough credited Mayor Jerry Jackson for making it possible to host the celebration of King’s birthday — one day early — in Harrison.

Jackson spoke directly to students in the audience, saying Harrison is not a racist community and a viral video that played on YouTube was “a lie.” He encouraged them to be proud of being from Harrison when they go off to college.

He asked them to join him in standing up to fight the reputation he said is wrongly assigned to Harrison and Boone County.

“We all know it,” he said. “We get accused of it. We can’t be silent about that.”

After leading the crowd in chants of “Goblin country” punctuated by thundering applause, Scarbrough introduced the keynote speaker, Eric “Victor Newman” Braeden from “The Young and the Restless” daytime drama.

Braeden explained that he was born in Germany in 1941. The city from which he came was 95% destroyed during World War II. He said his father was a believer in the party that put Hitler in power, but he soon became disillusioned with the party and the Gestapo took him away.

He told the students that their forefathers, both Black and white, liberated Germany from Nazi rule.

“Don’t ever forget what you fathers and your mothers meant to the rest of the world,” Braeden said.

As a youth in Germany, he and his friends listened to American music. Americans, he said, were seen as “cool.” He said Americans sometimes take that for granted, but the country will always be a beacon to the rest of the world.

He told students he was about their age when he came to the United States in 1959, alone and afraid.

“It’s the country of the free and the strong,” he said.

He took a trip to Galveston, Texas, and encountered the signs of separation and segregation, which confused him and he had to think about it. While attending the University of Montana on a track and field scholarship, he noted there was one Black player on the football team. That player was welcomed to games, but not parties afterward.

Braeden said he grew up as a Christian, but began searching for answers to the questions he had in his mind. Then, in 1963, he heard King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most powerful he’d ever heard. It awoke him to the concept of Universal love and the notion of forgiveness.

“What Martin Luther King did, by peaceful demonstration, I have so much respect for that,” he said. “So, Martin Luther King to me represents what is best in all of us.

He encouraged the students to get to know people from other countries and other races. Once they realize how much people have in common, they will question why there is so much fighting going on.

The students, he told them, will enter the world to become teachers or doctors or plumbers or construction experts. Those are all worthy careers.

“Be proud of whatever you do,” Braeden said.

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