Ames and Story County host MLK celebration event


Jacob Rice

The director of the Meeker Elementary School choir speaks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Ames/Story County Community Celebration, Jan. 16.

Members of the Story County community gathered to celebrate and honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Monday night.

Celeste Gonzalez Chaves smiles to the crowd before Wayne Clinton awards her the Ames Humanitarian at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Ames/Story County Community Celebration, Jan. 16. (Jacob Rice)

Celebrated on the Monday closest to his birthday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the life, achievements and legacy of MLK, an influential American civil rights leader and activist for racial equality.

The event, hosted in the Ames City Auditorium, provided a social atmosphere with refreshments and music before the program began at 6:30 p.m., where more than 200 community members listened to speeches, songs and presentations honoring and remembering the impact of MLK.

Presented by the Ames & Story County MLK Celebration and the Ames Public Library, this event provided a space for community members to talk, listen and celebrate this federal holiday.

Performances by Meeker Elementary School students kicked off the night, followed by speeches from Mayor John Haila, Superintendent Julious Lawson and Humanitarian Award winner Celeste Chavez. The night, emceed by Vanessa Baker-Latimer, came to a close with keynote speaker Anita Rollins.

Community Effort
An Ames area high school essay contest and performances from the Meeker Elementary choir were new ways to bring a different

Gilbert High School student Taryn Hicks is awarded $200 dollars for her essay on protests at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Ames/Story County Community Celebration, Jan. 16. (Jacob Rice)

age group to celebrate the event, according to Susan Gent, the community engagement specialist of Iowa State University.

“This event is really a year in the making,” Gent said. “We work closely with the Ames Human Relations Committee, and they helped us get our essay contest launched.”

The legacy of MLK has been celebrated in Ames for many years. Gent remembers that there have been community celebrations since she moved to Ames in 2018.

“It’s really important to invite everyone in the community to talk about Dr. King,” Gent said. “To let people know that we can have these conversations and talk about his message and try to bring it to action.”

Keynote Speaker
“When I was invited to speak for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program, I was asked to reflect on the impact that Reverend Dr. King has on my own life,” said Rollins, a community activist and a member of the Ames City Council, in a speech. “What a challenge and a privilege.”

After a quick introduction, Rollins continued by recalling her memories of April 4, 1968, the day Dr. King was assassinated.

Ames City Council member Anita Rollins speaks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Ames/Story County Community Celebration, Jan. 16. (Jacob Rice)

“I have a very vivid memory of the morning that the news spread of Dr. King’s assassination,” Rollins said. “I remember feeling concerned and sad, but mostly I was confused. I couldn’t understand why anyone would assassinate Reverend Dr. King.”

Throughout her presentation, titled “Radically Seeking Justice,” Rollins reflected on the continued impact King has on her life and how his legacy lives on in the roots of communities such as Ames.

“He had won the Nobel Peace Prize, he was Times’ Man of the Year and he spoke from a place of humility with a strength of conviction, not only in the word of God but in the founding documents of our nation,” Rollins said.

Rollins dissected MLK’s legacy and dedication to the civil rights movement and fighting inequality.

“The dismantling of inhumane and unjust systems was the primary focus of King’s work by leading marches and protests and championing other forms of non-violent advocacy,” Rollins said. “He led the civil rights movement until it cost him his life.”

Bringing her presentation back to MLK’s impact today, Rollins spoke of vision, courage and love, the main themes she associates with the legacy of MLK.

“The challenge to secure justice for all is before us,” Rollins said. “Let’s radically seek it with the vision of a better tomorrow, with a commitment to being courageous and a willingness to act in love.”