In 1988, the City of Arlington added the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday to its calendar. The Arlington Independent School District also voted to retain the day on its official holiday calendar – decisions that would spawn a new celebration in our city.
In 1989, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee was organized with representative from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, City of Arlington, Arlington Independent School District, Arlington Ministerial Association, Black Citizen’s Advisory Committee, U.S. Postal Service, Marian Anderson Society and the University of Texas at Arlington.
Dr. Don Pike, pastor of the First United Methodist Church, was the committee’s first chair. Under his leadership, the MLK Committee voted to design and promote a meaningful citywide celebration based on the ideals and the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
With the help of local attorney Jerry Hoodenpyle, MLK Celebration Committee, Inc. was established as a not-for-profit organization in 1990 and is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a charitable organization under Regulation 501(c) (3).
The first MLK Celebration was held that same year in 1990 and featured three days of events that attracted about 1,000 participants. Successful citywide events have been held in the ensuing years. In 1993, the closing musical/drama program drew such a large crowd that it was relocated from the Arlington Community Center to the Arlington High School Auditorium. In 1995, the event was again relocated to UTA’s Texas Hall, where it continues to be held.
“Explore” was added in 1994. This program targeted high school students, offering them an opportunity to learn more about college life as they interacted with leaders of participating organizations on the UTA campus.
“Junior Explore” was initiated two years later and focused on students ages 6-13. Ecumenical services hosted by various churches throughout the city always have been a major component of the celebration. Over the years, diversity training, sensitivity workshops, banquets, festivals and other multicultural events have been incorporated into the multiday series of events in the planning committee’s continuing effort to offer something for everyone. Year after year, however, the closing children’s drama and musical or Youth Extravaganza has remained the community’s favorite and most well-attended event.
Contributors and supporters of the events have included financial institutions, utility companies, the local newspaper and a host of local businesses and individuals who want to be associated with this celebration.
Arlington’s MLK Celebration has been successful, in part, because of the committee’s dedication and its dynamic leadership. Committee members have included an impressive list of community leaders who believe in the importance of keeping Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream alive.
The City of Arlington, Arlington ISD, the Arlington Ministerial Association, UTA and Tarrant County College remain major participants and are represented on the MLK Celebration Committee – a dedicated group of volunteers who continue to stage one of the community’s most successful celebration events.