ITHACA, N.Y. — On Martin Luther King Day this year, Ithacans revived the concept that the day should be a “day on” instead of a “day off.”

“We shouldn’t just come eat and go away,” District 2 Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne said.

District 2 Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne encourages people to demand an apology from President Donald Trump for reportedly calling Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “shithole countries.” Photo by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice

She was among the original organizers of the MLK community breakfast, usually held the Saturday leading up to the holiday.

During the first few years of the celebration, she said group classes and conversations about local issues used to be scheduled in the morning and afternoon.

That tradition eventually faded away over the years. But after a difficult 2017,  McBean-Clairborne said it was time to bring that tradition back.

She said because of the level of discrimination and hate from people marching in the streets to the President of the United States, it was time to come together again to try to make a difference locally.

“That’s sort of the idea behind this extended day,” McBean-Clairborne said. “Local organizing about local issues that could have national impact.”

The classes were diverse, ranging from food injustice, immigration, non-violent civil disobedience, LGBTQ+, housing, transportation, and many more issues. And in many of the classrooms, there were people crowded inside and standing in doorways. To make the classes more accessible, children’s activities were hosted at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center.

Local Activist Fabina Colon helped organize the classes.

She said, “The reason why the extended programming was decided upon was because we felt that last year was….an overwhelming year for many people…”

Local musician Remanu Steele teaches a hip hop dance class to kids on Martin Luther King Day at GIAC. Photo by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice

So when deciding on which classes should be offered, she reached out to local organizations and connected leaders of the groups with each other in ways they maybe haven’t considered.

For instance, she asked, “What does immigration have to do with LGBTQ rights?”  It’s a question without an obvious answer, but in linking together two organizations, it’s possible for them to find where they have shared goals, she said.

The idea behind the effort, Colon said, is to get people “experiencing solidarity differently.”

She said the four pillars of the Poor People’s Campaign —  racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation — were also major factors considered when considering the classes.

It’s the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign, which was a call to “to achieve the goal of a radical redistribution of political and economic power…”

The anniversary of the campaign has prompted leaders and communities throughout the country to organize a resurgence of many of those original calls for action.

Related: Dr. King’s Vision: The Poor People’s Campaign of 1967-68

McBean-Clairborne said that within a few months, with all these values in mind, organizers plan to meet again to discuss community action and report progress.

At next year’s celebration, she said there’s hope among organizers that people will be able to report back to the hundreds of attendees on exactly what progress has been made over the past year.

“That’s what we’ve been looking for,” she said.

Here are a few photos from the MLK Day celebration at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School. Photos by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice

Ithaca High School students demand action from the district for what they day are discriminatory practices within arts programs. One student called out the superintendent saying, “Mr. Brown, Dr. Brown, time’s up.”
Local musician Remanu Steele teaches a hip hop dance class to kids on Martin Luther King Day at GIAC.
Local musician Remanu Steele teaches a hip hop dance class to kids on Martin Luther King Day at GIAC.
Children’s activities were hosted at GIAC to help make classes more accessible to parents.
Children’s activities were hosted at GIAC to help make classes more accessible to parents.
Hundreds of people attended the MLK lunch with extended programming scheduled.
Hundreds of people attended the MLK lunch with extended programming scheduled.
Leaders from the Cayuga Nation gave opening remarks at the MLK Day celebration.
Leaders from the Cayuga Nation gave opening remarks at the MLK Day celebration.
Hundreds of people attended the MLK lunch with extended programming scheduled.