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Gandhi and King Remembered at Atlanta Event

March 2006
Gandhi and King Remembered at Atlanta Event

The confluence of Gandhian thought and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Civil Rights movement were once again highlighted on Jan. 28 when the Gandhi Foundation of USA observed the 8th anniversary of the dedication of Gandhi Statue, the 57th Republic Day of India (officially held on Jan. 26) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 77th birth anniversary.

The ceremony began with the garlanding of the Mahatma's statue and lighting of the traditional lamp by John Lu, a philanthropist and the president of Georgia Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, and Raj Razdan, chief coordinator of this year's celebrations, flanked by participants dressed as India's Freedom fighters - Leela Kaul (as Vijya Laxmi Pandit), Balakrishnan (Subash Chandra Bose), Tilak Raj Datta (Gandhi), Mansukhbhai Shroff (Sardar Patel), Dinanath Mehta (Bhagat Singh), and Poonam Datta (Sarojini Naidoo) - and several guests.

H.V. Shivadas, assistant executive director, GFUSA, said, "The dedication of the Gandhi Statue also coincides with the formation of the GFUSA. I have always thought of Dr. King as America's Mahatma, so it is appropriate that we mark this connection between Gandhi and Dr. King. We are eternally grateful to the King Center and the National Park Service for allowing us to solidify this bond with these annual triple celebrations." He led the participants in singing 'Raghupati Raghava,' followed by a symbolic March of Unity from the statue to the historic Ebenezer Church.

GFUSA youth wing director Vinita Thaper gave a synopsis of the program, invited Raj Razdan on stage and recognized her as well as Pastor Rodney Harris, St. James Missionary Baptist Church, and introduced Mistresses of Ceremonies, Sofina Bali and Les'Shon Irby.

The ceremony was attended by Major General (retd.) B.C. Roy, who served in the Indian Army, paid tribute to India's freedom fighters calling them embodiments of sacrifice, patriotism, self-respect and heroism. He lamented that their spirit of sacrifice, ethics and idealism is lacking in the present-day politicians and bureaucrats. But he urged the audience not to give up and to emulate the spirit of these freedom fighters. The young generation, armed with science and technology and imbued by the philosophies and legacies of Gandhi and Dr. King could ensure a prosperous India, he said.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin's Chief of Staff and GFUSA vice chairman, Greg Pridgeon, said that unlike cities in India, Atlanta is a young city, but it is a friendly and open city that has always encouraged diversity. He attributed Dr. King's success in his struggle against discrimination to Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence.

Later, as Laxmi Rao sang the patriotic ‘Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon' the look-alikes of India's freedom struggle filed past on the stage. This was followed by two dance performances by Samta Savla, and Sarika Gupta, respectively.

Complementing these performances were the dancers from the St. James Missionary Baptist Church troupe who thrilled the audience with the joyful "Warriors of Praise," choreographed by Denise Harper.

The choir from Praise and Worship Ministries, conducted by Renee Bush sang an uplifting gospel song ‘I Shall Wear a Crown.' In his keynote address, Terrell Slayton, Jr., assistant secretary of state, stressed the importance of acquainting the younger generation to the legacy and philosophies of Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi. He said that the teachings of these great souls ought not to be merely reserved for birthday and death anniversaries, but should be taught in schools and colleges.

Among others who spoke at the event, Josephine Tan, public relations director in charge of Asian-American Affairs at Georgia Power, and chair of the Asia-American Commission for a New Georgia. She congratulated Subash Razdan, the Founding member and Acting Chairman of GFUSA and members of the GFUSA for arranging monumental celebrations every year. Gandhi and Dr. King's legacies will be a shining beacon of hope and inspiration for the downtrodden and marginalized everywhere in the world. Their examples of social service to the community have been inspiring people the world over. To illustrate, on January 16, this year, instead of treating MLK Holiday as a day off, about 750 employees, families and friends (an increase of 20% over the previous year) treated it as a ‘day on' helping with a variety of meaningful social projects in and around Atlanta. By the end of the day, they successfully completed 32 community projects, "In today's global world, we must all strive to be inclusive and keep the legacies of Gandhi and Dr. King alive," she asserted.

The event concluded with everyone joining in the Civil Rights anthem, ‘We Shall Overcome,' which was sung by the choir from Praise and Worship Ministries.

- Mahadev Desai

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