Over 170 locals braved a frosty day Monday to participate in the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation’s annual march and commemoration ceremony in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Now in its third year running, Tinner Hill has played a part in the growing movement to turn what is conventionally used as a relaxing day off from work and school into a “day on” in the form of community service or civic activism. It’s a ritual commonly associated with King’s holiday, and one that pays homage to him and his life’s deeds in an appropriate manner.
“I don’t think that we celebrate as heroes those who just go off to war to protect us,” Edwin Henderson said in his opening remarks at the commemoration following the march held inside the Falls Church Episcopal Church. “But those people who fought here in this country for civil rights and social justice should be recognized as heroes.”
The air’s severe chill did little to deter the swelling crowd. Armed with hot beverages and variety of signs with messages denouncing hate and advising a shift toward greater appreciation of one another, participants embarked on the short two-mile trek from the Tinner Hill arch on South Washington Street to the Episcopal church while breaking out in the occasional chant.
Following a short intermission to thaw out, Henderson’s speech gave way to short remarks by Tinner Hill’s president Irene Chambers and eventually the founders of the Social Justice Committee of Falls Church and Vicinity, Nikki Graves Henderson and Peter Adriance.
Graves Henderson spent her short time on the mic thanking George Mason High School’s Black Student Union, Tinner Hill members, the church and the youth speakers for helping make the event possible. Adriance, meanwhile, thanked Graves Henderson for making her dream of a social justice committee a reality. The dream came to Graves Henderson following the events in Charlottesville in Aug. 2017 where she asked herself if what took place in central Virginia could happen in Falls Church. She accepted that they could, and sought out help from local faith leaders and concerned citizens to form the committee.
U.S. Congressman Don Beyer, Jr. came after Graves Henderson and Adriance. He discussed how he and his daughter frequently get into debates about whether the world is a better place or not. While they agreed it had gotten better — in terms of diversity in politics, for instance, Beyer mentioned a bustling Congressional Black Caucus, U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries serving as chair of the Democratic Caucus and a large number of black officials serving majority white districts — both agreed it was too soon to relax.
“We still live in a world where evil flourishes and we have much more work to do,” Beyer stated, before reciting a quote from the philosopher Immanuel Kant. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”
Youth speakers took turns at the mic to recite prominent King quotes before allowing a panel of different speakers from the faith and activism community to speak.
Dr. Randall Robinson of the Baha’is spoke of the core message of their religion’s founder, “crisis and victory” and how the current crisis of social justice now foreshadowed a victory soon to come. He was followed by Claudia Rojas, a Mason grad (‘17) and youth programs fellow at Split This Rock, who did a live read of one of her poems discussing injustices she’d observed and her emotional reactions to them.
Reverend for Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Gregory Loewer was next, where he talked about his life growing up on a rice farm in Louisiana and his memories of the era’s racism with a childlike recounting. Dulin United Methodist’s own Pastor Dave Kirkland shared how King visited his hometown of Petersburg, Va. multiple times growing up and how the southern Virginia city was the first place nationwide to commemorate King with a holiday in 1973. Jeffrey Saxe, a rabbi at Temple Rodef Shalom, then delved into his experiences doing interfaith work and how that was in common with King’s own values.
Owner and editor-in-chief of the Falls Church News-Press, Nicholas F. Benton, reflected on how the tumultuous period of that included fervent anti-war sentiment and Dr. King’s assassination inspired him to come out as gay and then co-found the Berkeley, Calif., chapter of the Gay Liberation Front. Since founding the News-Press 28 years ago, he says he’s taken pride in, among other things, its support for those who resisted and eventually reclaimed the historic Falls Church Episcopal from those who opposed the national denomination’s election of an openly-gay bishop.
Lastly, Reverend Samuel Barnhardt from Second Baptist Church reminded everyone how it is imperative that people continue to embody King’s principles in their lives today and going forward.
The commemoration ceremony ended with a brief explanation into the social justice committee’s work led by Latisha Jones and Dena Adriance. They talked about what topics the committee meetings typically cover, and provided a short preview of the committee’s upcoming event, “Breaking the Silence: Having Difficult Conversations on Race,” set to take place on Feb. 9.