For the 35 th consecutive year, a slice of the Winston-Salem community gathered at noon Monday in the Benton Convention Center to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King’s actual birthday was last Thursday but more than 1,000 people showed up Monday to take part in the city’s take on a national holiday that has been celebrated for three decades.

“For 35 years we’ve been doing the noontime celebration, and I can’t think of a better year to do it than this year,” Mayor Allen Joines said as he addressed the crowd.

The event has grown to about ten times the size it was when it was held for the first time in 1981 at the corner of Liberty and Third streets, said event organizer Mutter Evans.

The holiday came one week after the national release of the film Selma, which Evans encouraged those in attendance to see. A trailer of the film was also shown.

The event is also a chance to honor prominent members of the community who have been of service with the city’s MLK Award. State Senator Earline Parmon, who represents District 32, was this year’s recipient and give a short address in which she thanked those who had helped her achieve success.

“You know I was married for 47 years, but most of those years I’ve been out on the street and a lot of people say they didn’t even know I was married,” she joked. “But I want to say to you in this community, thank you. Because any time you want to be a game changer you’ve got to be in the game.”

The event also featured a video tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou, along with a video address she gave at the event when she received the same award in 2007.

The day’s keynote speaker was Reverend Dr. Sir Walter L. Mack, Jr. of Union Baptist Church on Trade Street. Mack framed King’s life in the context of “time and turn” lining up.

“I want you to know that on January 15, 1929 (King’s birthday) time and turn got together,” he said.

After giving a brief biography of King’s formative years, Mack began referencing current events and began contrasting them with the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement “The question that I have today is this,” he said. “What would King say today? That’s the existential question, that’s the essential question.”

Mack repeated the refrain “what would King say” throughout his address, touching on the recent killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, globalization, terrorism and the release of the movie “The Interview,” which he condemned as violent.

“When Sony can produce a movie that depicts shooting the brains and the guts out of the leader, not that we support his dictatorial ways, but the question is who are we to decide who should live and who should die,” he said.

Mack emphasized there is still a long way to go despite the progress since the 1960s and the election of an African American president.

“King would tell us that we have to keep moving forward because the struggle continues and the fight aint over,” he said.

Mack became especially passionate when he began to discuss King’s theory about the world’s three largest evils: War, Poverty and Racism. To illustrate the point, he gave several local examples of inequality, beginning by giving his take on the announcement of PF Chang’s’ expansion to Winston-Salem.

“I was glad to see construction going on Stratford Road. I’m glad to see some construction going on there,” he said. “So much construction that PF Chang’s decided to come to the city. But where is the development of restaurants and businesses and malls in East Winston? Why can’t we put a PF Chang’s in East Winston?” Mack then pointed out that many hospitals are located along I-40 but very few are accessible to the lowest income areas of the city.

“All the hospitals are beside the highway, and we don’t have one hospital in East Winston or North Winston which means that if you have to drive longer than 15 minutes to get to the hospital you might die,” he said.

Mack called on those in attendance to make a difference in the community.

“King would say that it’s time for us to stand up, open our mouths, voice our desires, and hold people accountable who say they represent us.”

After Mack’s address, the program concluded with a prayer and the sing- ing of the civil rights hymn, “We Shall Overcome.” !