While the Tri-County gears up for observances of Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday, I recall one special observance held Feb. 1, 2008, while I worked as a reporter for The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind.
That day I was sent to Manchester College, a small, rural college which embraces the notions of faith, love and diversity, for the convocation. While the university routinely holds convocations, this one was different since it was meant to remember King’s visit to the campus 40 years prior on Feb. 1, 1968.
Despite wintry weather that had dumped several inches of snow on the ground, the university’s students, staff and area residents turned out to remember King’s visit and to honor his message of racial integration, economic equality and peace.
King was on the Manchester campus two months before his assassination. Before his arrival, as word of his visit spread, university officials received threats of violence. Professors spent the night before King’s visit at the college’s gym, guarding it.
The university and the community rose above the fear a few woefully ignorant racists hoped to incite. King’s visit happened.
In 2008, I got to talk to people who saw King in 1968 and who were inspired by him.
The observance ended with a choir singing, “We Shall Overcome.” They were joined by the audience and, halfway through the song, audience members began to stand.
There are times in the course of my reporting when I am moved to tears. That moment was one of them.
The date, Feb. 1, 2008, stands out in my mind for another reason. After I left Manchester College, I drove to one of northeast Indiana’s vast natural lakes. I was working on a story about people who pitch tents and build sheds on frozen lakes so they can ice fish. I found a neighborly lake resident who let me park in his driveway while I trudged across a frozen bay to “knock” as best you can on those tents and to interview a couple fishermen about their dedication to what seems to be an expensive and uncomfortable hobby.
After those interviews, I walked across the bay with no issue — until I got to the sidewalk of the house where I had parked my car. The homeowner had cleared the snow off the sidewalk while I was on the bay. All that remained was a good coat of ice. It was at that point I felt my feet begin to slip. I fought the fall as if I could somehow pull out of it even when my backside was inches from the ground.
I lost. Gravity won.
The nice thing about a snowy day is the quiet. I had no problem hearing the “pop” from my right leg.
Keeping my priorities straight, I looked around to see if anyone saw me fall. Then I awkwardly stood. My right leg hurt, but I was able to hobble to my car. As I began the long drive back to the newsroom, I knew something was wrong with my leg, but I was more worried about the story I was to write concerning the Manchester College convocation. I couldn’t let that wonderful moment go unnoticed and unreported.
I called my editor and explained my plan to her: I would drive to a city halfway between where I was and the newsroom, where I would go to a local coffee shop and write, then email the story to the newsroom using the shop’s free wireless.
I was a pitiful sight as I limped into that coffee shop lugging my laptop. Despite my discomfort, I still stood in line and got some kind of hot beverage, since I think it’s unfair to use a business without somehow supporting it. Then I hobbled back to the table, wrote the story about the university’s event, and emailed it to my editor. A cell phone call or two later and my work that day was done. I then drove myself to a nearby hospital, where an X-ray showed a spiral fracture of my fibula — the non-weight bearing bone which runs between the knee and the ankle.
As a result of my injury, I spent the next couple months wearing a splint and became inseparable from my crutches. My ice fishing story, still in its reporting infancy, died. My time in the newsroom was spent with my leg propped on a trash can while I did menial work such as compiling vast lists of area spelling bee winners.
However, on Feb. 2, 2008, the story I wrote about King’s visit appeared in The Journal Gazette, and the story of that wonderfully moving convocation at Manchester College was shared with thousands of people.
Monday is Martin Luther King Day. We should all use it as a moment to remember we exist on a vast and wonderful planet which was intentionally created and populated with a diverse and vibrant range of creatures, us included. We share a need for respect, sustenance, shelter, and more. We are more alike than different and, in those differences, we can find opportunities to celebrate.
Let’s seek those opportunities to celebrate.
Becky Killian is the editor of the Times-Tribune. She can be reached at email@example.com