Nearly 55 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, the civil rights movement leader’s legacy continues to inspire progress toward social justice and equality.
Hedy Lemar Walls hopes people will reflect on the importance of finding shared moral values with others this Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Lemar Walls — the executive vice president for social responsibility for the YMCA of the North in Minneapolis — will be the keynote speaker at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast for the Northeast Suburbs Monday, Jan. 16, at Parkview United Church of Christ in White Bear Lake.
Parkview is hosting the event in partnership with White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church and Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul. Doors for the event open at 6:30 a.m., and a free continental breakfast will be served at 6:45 a.m.
Lemar Walls will deliver her address at 7:15 a.m. and Minneapolis-based vocal ensemble Cantus will perform afterward. There will later be a linked broadcast of the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Breakfast that will be taking place that morning in Minneapolis.
“One thing that he was very well known for was his strong values,” Lemar Walls said of King. “What we have to do as a people, I believe, is instead of focusing on the way people look or the way they dress or even the color of their skin, how do we move to a position of really wanting to engage and understand how others are feeling and seeing the world?”
“It may be different from us, yet we can all learn from each other.”
Lemar Walls is a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native who lived in Minnesota for 48 years before moving to Florida in 2020.
After she earned her bachelor’s degree from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Lemar Walls’ mother insisted she continued her education by getting a master’s degree. Lemar Walls applied to several universities around the country and received a full scholarship from the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota. That’s where she received her master’s degree in business administration.
She later went on to earn a doctoral degree in education in leadership from St. Mary’s University in Winona and a specialist degree in education administration from Minnesota State University in Mankato.
Lemar Walls recalled how people in her life told her she should be grateful for living in Minnesota because they believed there would be more racial equality and opportunities for Black people there than in the South.
“That was not true,” Lemar Walls said, noting how most of the students of color at the University of Minnesota at the time were international pupils.
Therefore, she had to learn to navigate a new cultural setting surrounded mostly by white people. That was in contrast to the segregation she’d grown up in living in Louisiana, where most people in her social circles were Black like her.
“It helped me to understand, and really it opened me up to really begin to see people for who they really are and not for who I want them to be,” Lemar Walls said.
The Rev. Deborah Hasdorff at Parkview Church said the hope for the event is to remind community members of King’s core messages: equality, justice, nonviolence, love, individual conscience and service above self.
“Those are the core values of Martin Luther King that are important to us too,” Hasdorff said. “We want to lift those up and remind people in our community that there are churches and organizations that are working toward those goals.”
She added that she wants the community to know that there are churches, such as Parkview and the Unitarian Universalist Church, that are committed to diversity and social action.
The Unitarian Universalist Church has hosted the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast since 2010 and has collaborated with Parkview on other social justice-related events in the past. This is the first year that Parkview is the lead sponsor and host for the event.
“The theme of the event is ‘keep moving forward,’” said the Rev. Roger Bertschausen, interim lead pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church.
“It's the acknowledgment that we've come a long way in realizing King’s vision of a country where everyone is treated with inherent dignity and worth — and we have a ways to go. I always think that King’s celebration day is a marker of that and a reminder and a prod. It’s not about the one day but about what we do each day to move forward.”