A celebration in past and present
Date: January 10, 2012
Irma Silkworth remembers the riots that erupted across Baltimore in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death in April 1968. While driving into the city to meet her newborn nephew, a scary scene unfolded. Angry mobs of protestors lit fires in the streets. The police and National Guard patrolled street corners to control the unrest and enforce a city-wide curfew.
A couple of years later, Silkworth became an assistant to Levi Watkins, Hopkins’ first black chief resident in cardiac surgery. Her interest in King deepened as she heard Watkins’ stories about the man who was his pastor and mentor while growing up in segregated Montgomery, Ala. Silkworth became instrumental in planning and coordinating the first few years of the annual Johns Hopkins Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration, a celebration that Watkins started as a way to pay homage to his slain mentor.
Silkworth says “being a part of history” is the greatest reward for her contributions. She also treasures memories of dining with keynote speakers, such as Coretta Scott King and Harry Belefonte, the evening before the event.
The program has grown and become a beloved tradition, with this year marking Hopkins’ 30th celebration of King’s life and lessons. Silkworth, now medical supervisor for pediatric surgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, still attends every other year for the inspirational message and Unified Voices’ moving music performance.
Ken Grant, Hopkins Hospital’s vice president of general service, has nearly 20 years of involvement with the celebration. He says the message “causes us to pause just a little bit and think about our priorities—both our personal priorities as well as our institutional priorities.”
The commemoration is a reminder for Hopkins to continue to pursue its vision of diversity and equality for all patients and employees, Grant says. “It makes no sense to have such a wonderful program if we’re not committed to the message of the man we’re honoring and that we’ve honored for 30 years.”
Grant says he particularly enjoys presenting awards to employees for their outstanding service and commitment to King’s ideals. “What you’re doing to make a difference in the lives of others is the hallmark and cornerstone of what makes the program so important,” he says.
King’s eldest son, noted civil rights and community leader, Martin Luther King III, will deliver the address for this year’s milestone event—just as he did for the inaugural celebration in 1982. Grant says he hopes King will discuss progress made over the past 30 years and the work left to realize his father’s dream. Johns Hopkins Medicine Dean/CEO Edward D. Miller and Ronald R. Peterson, president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins Health System, will share remarks during the ceremony, which will be Miller’s last before retiring.
The 2012 Johns Hopkins Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Celebration will take place on Jan. 6 from 12 to 1 p.m. in Turner Auditorium on the East Baltimore campus. The event both will be recorded and telecast live across Johns Hopkins Medicine.