Photos by Nystasha Kelly of Complexion Photography
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a philanthropist and humanitarian ahead of his time.
I wanted to create a big birthday party to celebrate this holiday and to spread the idea of not just community, but also fellowship and generosity.
-- Ms. Valerie Smedley
The MLK Birthday Celebration Committee
Musicians! Line dancing! Bounce houses! Double Dutch jump roping! Bracelets making! Birthday cake! Cotton candy! Popcorn! Hot dogs, fries and burgers! And, distribution of 200 Women in Training, Inc. #WITKITS of menstrual, dental and hygiene supplies to community members!
All at the MLK Birthday Celebration Committee's Second Annual MLK Birthday Bash and Family Fun Fest on Jackson Street in the Historic Centennial Hill neighborhood. Dr. King lived on Jackson Street when he pastored Dexter Avenue Baptist Church from 1954 to 1960. To honor Dr. King's spirit of altruism, or the Beloved Community, Women In Training Inc. (WIT) served as an event sponsor, and distributed #WITKITS to families with support from JustServe and WIT Monarchs and Moms.
The MLK Birthday Bash is the brainchild of Ms. Valerie Smedley, owner of Tours of Montgomery and founder of the Montgomery Music and Arts Foundation. Ms. Smedley is also a retired attorney and was the second Black woman to earn the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Alabama Army National Guard.
"Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a philanthropist and humanitarian ahead of his time," Ms. Smedley said. “I wanted to create a big birthday party to celebrate this holiday and to spread the idea of not just community, but also fellowship and generosity."
At the MLK Birthday Bash, Women in Training, Inc. volunteers handed out their signature WITKITS containing Always brand of period products, body wash, deodorant, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, floss, toothbrushes, a pair of fuzzy socks and a handmade bracelet. WIT spreads awareness of the period poverty crisis and supports menstruators who do not have access to such essentials.
“We lived in Dubai for a while and, in the Emirati culture, birthdays are about giving rather than receiving," said Brooke Bennett, Co-founder of Women in Training, Inc. "We loved that, and when we moved to the U.S., we decided to do the same thing for our birthday and have also done it to honor Dr. King's birthday."
The bold and empowered members of the WIT Leadership Development Academy are called Monarchs, referencing the organization’s butterfly logo. Adolescent girls all over Montgomery and the River Region join WIT “... to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” WIT Monarch Gabrielle Johns shared.
Gabrielle’s pride was nearly tangible as she described the impact WIT has had on her – the opportunities for personal growth she has experienced, the sisterhood she shares with her fellow Monarchs, the leadership skills she has learned, and the ability to make a significant difference in her community. This is what WIT is all about – strengthening, encouraging, and empowering middle and high school girls so they may grow into revolutionary, bright women.
WIT Monarchs, who are the middle and high school girls in the WIT Leadership Development Academy, as well as some Moms, showed up and showed out to support the MLK Birthday Bash, including:
WIT Monarch Kaylana Brazile, Freshman, LAMP Academic Magnet School
WIT Monarch Kacie Caldwell, Freshman, Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet School
WIT Monarch Ryleigh Caldwell, Grade 8, Floyd Middle Magnet School
Ms. Kimberly Caldwell, Kacie and Ryleigh's Mom
WIT Monarch Amiyah-Sarea Goshton, Senior, LAMP Magnet High School
WIT Monarch Chassidy Hogan, Sophomore, Park Crossing High School
Ms. Danielle Hogan, Chassidy's Mom
WIT Monarch Gabrielle Johns, Senior, Brewbaker Technology Magnet School
While we experienced a great deal of joy giving away #WITKITS at the MLK Birthday Bash and Family Fun Day, even more volunteer hours went into producing the successful giveaway event.
First, Master Sergeant Ashley Marshall and JustServe's Wendy Palkki accompanied WIT President and CEO Adeyela Bennett on a shopping expedition for WITKITS supplies. Treasurer Alonzetta Landrum-Sims acquired cleaning supplies.
As part of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) national convention in Montgomery, 50 members honored the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and Remembrance by volunteering with WIT on January 13, 2024. The AFL-CIO is a voluntary federation of 60 national and international labor unions that represent 12.5 million working people.
AFL-CIO volunteers cleaned the three-story Montgomery Public Schools building that houses WIT operations; they also rearranged furniture and inventoried supplies. The labor union members also packed almost 200 #WITKITS of menstrual, dental and hygiene supplies in just 90 minutes of service!
Early on Martin Luther King Day, volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and JustServe supported Women in Training, Inc. by providing two trucks and transporting the WIT tent, tables, chairs, and bins filled with WITKITS of menstrual, dental and hygiene supplies. They were also the last volunteers to return supplies to the warehouse after the MLK Birthday Bash and Family Fun Day.
The Brothers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints include:
Brother Hyrum Decker
“At the MLK Birthday Bash Family Fun Day, speaker after speaker talked about fulfilling Dr. Martin Luther King’s dreams by creating a Beloved Community," said Ms. Sheralyn Belyeu, a JustServe Specialist in Montgomery.
"Montgomery is blessed with wonderful nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and community-minded people who are doing just that. These great people work together to feed the hungry, care for the sick, educate the children, and build a better future for all of us. Check out the JustServe app and website to learn how you can help bring Dr. King’s dream to life," Ms. Belyeu continued.
Tim Halstrom, a FamilySearch Consultant in Montgomery, also supported the MLK Birthday Bash Family Fun Day.
"We appreciate the opportunity to bring to light the importance and beauty of family history to the Montgomery community," Mr. Halstrom said. "It is especially significant as we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King. As he did, we are living our own family history which must be preserved to enlighten our children as to things as they really are. For those who were not able to stop by and talk with us about researching their own ancestors, we invite you to call us at (334) 549-3506 for an appointment to open the book on your past or visit the Family Search website."
Thank you to Rapid Wave Media LLC for donating the WIT banner above.
The following Women in Training, Inc. leaders provided support for the AFL-CIO volunteer project:
Mr. Bradley Bennett, WIT Vice President
Ms. Elizabeth Johnson Sellers, WIT Board Secretary and Communications Chairwoman
Ms. Donna Jordan, Manager, WIT Mentor Program
Master Sergeant Ashley Marshall and family
Ms. Jodi Womack
It was great seeing community leaders who support the MLK Birthday Bash, including Judge Monet McCorvey Gaines, Judge J.R. Gaines and Judge Marvin Wiggins with the Bennett family; Montgomery County Commissioner Isaiah Sankey; Ms. Kynesha Brown from Rollin' to the Polls with Ms. Bennett; Dr. Valda Harris Montgomery of the historic Harris House with Brooke and Breanna Bennett; State Senator Kirk Hatcher with Adeyela and Bradley Bennett; the legendary Ms. Sheyanne Webb Christburg with Mr. Bradley Bennett; and Ms. Earnestine Woods.