Martin Luther King Jr Unity Breakfast
The Martin Luther King Jr Unity Breakfast is an annual celebration held on the morning of the Martin Luther King Jr federal holiday observed since 1996 on the third Monday of January. The event is coordinated by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Conference for Community and Justice, Operation New Birmingham's Community Affairs Committee, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The idea of holding an annual event to honor the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr originated with Abraham Woods Jr, chair of the Birmingham SCLC. Odessa Woolfolk and her colleagues in the Community Affairs Committee suggested holding a celebratory breakfast. The event has continued to grow each year, featuring a keynote address, awards, and performances by area musical groups. Community Affairs Committee chair Aaron Carlton organized the event for nearly three decades.
Part of the breakfast honor essays submitted by metro area high school students on topics associated with King's legacy. The authors of the top three essays are awarded college scholarships. The winners from each school are invited to be guests at the breakfast. Student artwork is also exhibited as part of the event.
Themes and guests
- Monday, January 17, 2021: Rapper Michael "Killer Mike" Render was the scheduled guest speaker for the 35th annual Unity Breakfast. Due to a delayed flight, he participated in a round table after the breakfast concluded.
- Monday, January 20, 2020: Robert O. White II of Alabama State University delivered the keynote for the 34th annual Unity Breakfast
- Monday, January 21, 2019: U.S. Senator Doug Jones returned to deliver the keynote address for the 33rd annual Unity Breakfast.
- Monday, January 15, 2018: U.S. Senator Doug Jones delivered the keynote address for the 32nd annual Unity Breakfast.
- Monday, January 16, 2017: Nearly $100,000 in city appropriations helped fund the 31st annual Unity Breakfast
- Monday, January 19, 2016: Singer-songwriter Alvin Garrett served as the master of ceremonies for the event, themed with the slogan "Beyond Poverty."Birmingham Civil Rights Institute CEO Andrea Taylor delivered a keynote address.
- January 19, 2015: BJCC: Author Tanner Colby delivered an address for the event, themed "A Time To Break Silence". His book, Some of my Best Friends are Black, was featured in a city-wide community dialogue project organized by the Bethesda Life Center and the office of U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance.
- January 20, 2014: Boutwell Auditorium: Circuit Judge Houston Brown delivered the keynote to the event, themed "Birmingham Unity: Embracing Liberty and Justice for All."
- January 21, 2013: BJCC: Southern Christian Leadership Conference president emeritus Charles Steele delivered a keynote, flying from President Obama's second inauguration for the event.
- January 16, 2012: Father Clarence Williams, founder of the Detroit, Michigan-based Institute for Recovery from Racism, spoke during the event, themed "Birmingham Unity: Building on the Stone of Hope."
- January 17, 2011: BJCC: Birmingham Mayor William Bell delivered a keynote address in which he called for more support of public transportation as an economic justice issue.
- January 18, 2010: BJCC: Birmingham-Southern College professor Ed LaMonte delivered a keynote address touching on the balkanization of the Birmingham Metropolitan Area into smaller municipalities.
- January 19, 2009: BJCC: Miles College President George French Jr was the featured speaker. Special tribute was made to Abraham Woods Jr, who died in November 2008 and to honor the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States.
- January 21, 2008: BJCC: Janet Murguía, President & CEO of the National Council of LaRaza spoke on "One Community: 'Caught in an Inescapable Network of Mutuality, Tied in a Single Garment of Destiny!'"
- 2007: BJCC: Former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines spoke on “A Great Revolution: Continuing the Struggle.”
- January 16, 2006: BJCC: Federal judge U. W. Clemon spoke.
- 2005: BJCC: Historian Wayne Flynt spoke on "Uniting to Complete the Unfinished Agenda in Civil and Human Rights."
- 2004: BJCC: Birmingham mayor Bernard Kincaid
- 2003: BJCC: King Center director Vincent Harding spoke on "The Full Vision and Way of Dr Martin Luther King Jr"
- 2001: BJCC: Civil Rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth
- 1998: featured the first public reading of the Birmingham Pledge
- 1986: Relay House in the Bank for Savings Building. Federal judge U. W. Clemon spoke on "Martin Luther King’s Message for Humanity."
- Hammontree, John (January 19, 2016) "2016 MLK Unity Breakfast pushes young leaders to tackle poverty, education." The Birmingham News
- Edgemon, Erin (December 22, 2016) "Birmingham spending nearly $100,000 on 31st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast." The Birmingham News
- Wright, Erica (January 21, 2020) "2020 MLK Unity Breakfast draws thousands to downtown Birmingham." The Birmingham Times
- Pillion, Dennis (January 17, 2022) "Killer Mike’s MLK Day message to Birmingham: Always be organizing." The Birmingham News
- MLK Unity Breakfast website