Event to honor civil rights legends

Whidbey residents are invited to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this Saturday, Feb. 24.

Whidbey residents are invited to join a community gathering celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists of the Civil Rights Movement this Saturday, Feb. 24.

The free event begins at 1 p.m. and is hosted at St. Augustine’s-in-the-Woods Episcopal Church, located at 5217 Honeymoon Bay Road in Freeland.

Originally planned for MLK Day on Jan. 15, the event was canceled due to snowy and icy weather. Organizers decided to host the gathering in February in conjunction with Black History Month.

This year marks the 18th annual “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” event. Richard Hall, the facilitator for St. Augustine’s Episcopal Peace Fellowship and an organizer for the upcoming event, said Blessed Are the Peacemakers usually focuses on the history of the Civil Rights Movement while also connecting to recent concerns and issues.

In 2024, the emphasis is on gun violence prevention. Last year the Gun Violence Archive recorded a total of 42,926 gun-related deaths and 656 mass shootings.

“We have the courage to stand up and speak out against the gun lobby and gun culture today,” Hall said.

Nonviolent activism was a prominent part of the Black Freedom Movement. Activists used faith-based tactics of nonviolent civil disobedience.

“While King best articulated the nonviolent tactics and justice issues, there were many other activists who led local sit-ins, freedom rides and risked their lives to challenge voter discrimination … who went to jail for challenging Jim Crow,” Hall said, adding that these individuals include Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Diane Nash, John Lewis, Ella Baker, Bob Moses, Bernard Lafayette and Bayard Rustin.

The event consists of interactive readings interspersed with African American gospel influenced movement music led by Henry Lebedinsky, this year’s new music leader. Karl Olsen, who has been the heart and soul of the MLK gathering since 2008, is retiring from the role.

In the last few years, Blessed Are the Peacemakers has honed its approach on a contemporary theme of calling for a racial reckoning, with readings from John Lewis and Bob Moses.

“We’re concerned with peace and justice issues,” Hall said. “It’s always been a community event.”

He said the event is usually well attended by 80 to 100 people every year. Cookies and beverages will be provided afterwards.

“If people want to socialize, network or dialogue about the presentation, they’ll have that opportunity,” Hall said.

Photo provided
Participants at a previous Blessed Are the Peacemakers event join hands.

Photo provided Participants at a previous Blessed Are the Peacemakers event join hands.