For the second year in a row, Mary Briggs coordinated a Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Chardon on the steps of the Geauga County Courthouse in honor of the civil rights icon.
From an early age, Briggs was exposed to many people, friends and others, who were not privileged, a word she uses to characterize her upbringing, and sought to share her experiences by spreading the word.
“I’m a dedicated person and I work to hold others accountable,” said the 62-year-old Geauga County resident and former Claridon Township administrator. “I started speaking out and speaking out against racism in the early 80s, and I’ve continued to do so, diplomatically, even though I try to confuse people.”
Her passion for honoring King began about 30 years ago when she was asked to speak at an event at Kent State University’s Geauga Campus in Burton Township.
“It was something I really wanted to do because it’s important to keep his message of love, hope, and peaceful civil disobedience alive, especially when people push back against universal realities,” Briggs said. “And Chardon, today and in the past, has been very supportive of me.
“And it’s critical that we remember King here, and not just today because the courthouse is the bastion of change…or not,” she added. “The spirit of justice lives on, it all starts at home, confronting racism starts at home. It all starts with one voice. What we do as individuals matters and has value – our power comes from interior.
To bolster his argument, Briggs alluded to the posthumous pardon recently granted by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards to Homer Plessy, a mixed-race New Orleans native whose refusal in 1892 to leave a “whites-only” wagon ultimately led to the Supreme Court’s ruling “Separate but Equal” doctrine of racial segregation.
“That decision was only overturned by Brown v. Board of Education (in 1954),” Briggs said, “and in many ways was a catalyst to spark the civil rights movement where King, a messenger world of peace, change and inspiration has emerged as a symbolic leader.
As a snowstorm ripped through northeast Ohio on Jan. 17, Briggs said the courthouse parking lot was plowed and the steps were cleared and salted just before the event, even as one of the event’s speakers was stuck at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
“I’m a tough case,” she said. “The show will go on. A little discomfort, adverse conditions and determination are also what this holiday represents. This event is for the good of the community and does not exclude anyone. If I can help educate my brothers and sisters in such a conflicted and non-confrontational time, and to be a force for positive change, even to my dying breath, I will.
“We still haven’t achieved King’s dream and people are denying it,” Briggs added. “They don’t want to get it. Why, then, did President (Lyndon Baines) Johnson have to sign the Civil Rights Act (in 1964)? Why did interracial marriage go all the way to the Supreme Court? Why did people of my gender get the right to vote just over 100 years ago? Because the Constitution, in many ways, remains an ideal and it is up to every human being to ensure that justice is done.
Although King was only 39 when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, Briggs, in conclusion, implored everyone to let the light of King’s birthday shine on the injustices in the world. Geauga County and across the country while creating change and being that change.
“We come together in unprecedented times,” she said. “A pandemic, a divided country, the normalization of hate speech, institutional racism, misogyny, institutionalized intolerance of religious freedom and the threat to our very democracy and civil rights….and the important Black Lives movement Matter….We can be better. ”
She added, quoting King, “’Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
“‘In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.'”