MLK Jr. message: Work together

Tribute’s speakers explain a dream of collaboration

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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On a recent trip visiting family in Washington, D.C., Sarah Mensah made sure she also visited the newly dedicated Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.

The Portland Trail Blazers executive remembers perusing the walls lined with powerful quotation after powerful quotation from the renowned civil rights leader. But it was one in particular that stood out to her:

“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”

Mensah took note. She took a picture at the spot with her son.

“It felt like Dr. King was speaking to me,” said Mensah, senior vice president and chief operating officer in the Blazers’ front office.

Mensah passed the same message on to a full banquet room at Vancouver’s Red

Lion at the Quay, where dozens of community members gathered Saturday to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

“The Collaborative Society,” organized by Vancouver-based Mosaic Blueprint and company president Deena Pierott, came two days before Monday’s federal holiday.

Saturday’s tribute included songs and presentations by community members and leaders honoring the civil rights leader, and illuminated the importance of his life in an era different from his own. Speakers celebrated him as a man whose work for equality stands as a continuing example for today’s world. A man who walked by faith, not by sight. A man whose work isn’t yet finished.

Mensah, one of the day’s featured speakers, described a society today that’s made progress toward equality in some ways but taken steps backward in others. One has to look no further than the huge disparity in graduation rates among children of different racial or economic backgrounds, she said.

Mensah said she finds inspiration in how the community has helped her family in different ways since she grows up in Beaverton, Ore. It takes only a small gesture of kindness or love, she said, to go a long way.

“It’s remarkable how one word,” she said, “how that can reverberate into the community. It’s astounding.”

James Mason, director of culturally competent care giving with Providence Health Services, encouraged people to consider a world view other than their own. The best way to achieve something is to work collectively, he said, not for the benefit of one group or another.

“When you collaborate, you have to listen,” Mason said. “Learning to collaborate is a talent I think we all need to master.”

Saturday’s event began with a short video, a montage of faces and voices offering four familiar words:

I have a dream.

Mason finished his presentation with a sentiment that resonated in the room:

“King’s work isn’t done,” he said. “He handed off the baton to every one of us.”

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.