Cleveland Bishop Nelson Perez was among those who remembered the work and celebrated the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Cleveland Clinic’s 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Celebration on Jan. 17.
The breakfast event drew about 600 people, including members of the Clinic’s faith and medical communities, civic leaders, business people, students and others who packed a ballroom at the InterContinental Hotel in Cleveland. The event commemorated the work of the late civil rights and spiritual leader who was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968 at age 39.
“We are here to remember a humble pastor,” said the Rev. Dr. Amy Greene, director, Center for Spiritual Care, Cleveland Clinic. Rev. Greene told those assembled that Rev. King’s work is not finished and what he accomplished should not be in a museum – it needs to continue.
In his interfaith blessing, Imam Jaward Bayat, the Clinic’s first Muslim chaplain and educator, prayed that Rev. King’s legacy “be blessed and continue to inspire our hearts.”
Bishop Perez gave an interfaith reflection, recalling how Rev. King, who he described as a man of great faith, “Wanted to be a voice for the oppressed following the call of God.” And that voice became powerful, he said.
“He was a man who believed in his God. He said love was not determined by the color of our skin; we are all created in the image of God,” Bishop Perez said. He urged the assembly to let those words “Stir in our hearts, to stir us to action and peace.”
Rev. King wanted peace, racial equality and justice for all of us, he said. The bishop pointed out five things Rev. King wanted people to focus on: vision, commitment, courage, hope and love.
“He had a dream and remained focused and steadfast on that dream that God whispered in his soul – a dream of vision, of freedom; a dream where we all can be free at last,” Bishop Perez said.
Regarding commitment, the bishop said Rev. King urged people “to fly. And if you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then crawl. Just keep moving forward.”
He described courage as the inner resolution to keep moving forward despite obstacles. And conscience asks the question, “Is it right?” the bishop said. He noted that Rev. King was true to his vision and commitment with courage, something that ultimately cost him his life.
“Hope fuels the heart of a faithful person. It takes us beyond the ‘stuff.’ We must learn to accept finite disappointment, but never lose hope,” Bishop Perez said.
As for love, the bishop said it must be a constant. “Someone must have the sense and morality to cut off the chain of hate. The human heart was made to love,” the bishop said. “We have come a long way, but there is a lot left to do.” He said we can continue Rev. King’s vision by our faith in a gentle, loving God.
“Long live Dr. King,” Bishop Perez added.
Dr. Tom Mihaljevic, Cleveland Clinic CEO and president, told the assembly that Rev. King “Would not have wanted us to walk alone. He wanted us to always march forward and never go back.” He said the Clinic relies on its communities – internal and external -- in order to keep moving forward. “We have challenges,” he said, pointing out the opioid crisis and epidemic of mental health issues. He said the Clinic is fighting the opioid crisis by prescribing fewer drugs that add to the crisis. Also, he said it is the largest provider of mental health care in the state. In addition, the Clinic system recognizes what Mihaljevic called the “unacceptable mortality rate of children who are dying too young.” Vaping is one new challenge, he said.
The Clinic is committed to the community, he noted, saying it is the largest employer in the state and added 200 new jobs in the area of its main campus. That, coupled with its growing commitment to health benefits, means the Clinic “won’t look back,” Mihaljevic said.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Carl Allamby, shared his story of rising from an impoverished childhood in East Cleveland to becoming a successful entrepreneur and small business owner before fulfilling a childhood dream of becoming a doctor. He is a first-year emergency medicine resident at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital.
Dr. Allamby, 48, credited his family with providing a loving, supportive environment – along with the reinforced values of helping others -- despite the challenges presented by poverty. He said his parents and many neighbors were his role models.
As a young boy, he had a dream of becoming a doctor. But as the years passed, he decided to become the best mechanic he could. He opened his own auto mechanic shop and was successful enough to support his family. “The people in my community supported my years as an entrepreneur,” he recalled.
After seeing his sister struggle with college expenses and have to defer her dream for a while, he continued to work at his business. His sister eventually finished college and earned a doctoral degree in education, “Which made her the first Dr. Allamby in the family,” he said, as he acknowledged her.
“For a while it seemed like the college dream was a burden rather than a gateway from poverty,” he said. But he finally decided to pursue a business degree at Ursuline College. He knew a biology class was required to complete his degree, but admitted he delayed it as long as possible – until a counselor nudged him.
“And within an hour of the first class, the dream of being a doctor returned and I knew I had to change my life’s course,” Dr. Allamby said. He credited his wife and family for supporting him through the long journey of college and medical school – nine years total. He recalled how his wife, a physical therapist, would bring their daughters to campus to visit him during study breaks, providing him with inspiration and encouragement.
He also remembered a homeless woman who was being discharged but had nowhere to go with her children. She remained optimistic – as did her children – that the hospital would help them find shelter. “The kids were victims of circumstance,” he said, adding how difficult it is to escape the cycle of poverty.
“Being comfortable with being uncomfortable brought me here. I implore all of you to share your successes and failures. No matter where we came from, we’re all God’s children. We must march ahead and never turn back,” Dr. Allamby said, as the audience applauded.
The Rev. Brian Shields, Clinic chaplain and healing services, led the group -- accompanied by Open Tone Music and Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland -- in singing “We Shall Overcome” as the program ended.