This one was all about the children.

With the goal of educating kids about Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy, the city of Sandy Springs hosted its 14th annual tribute to King at City Springs’ Studio Theatre Jan. 20, King Day. In years past the event has included a program with speeches and performers.

But for 2020 the city shifted gears with the inaugural MLK Day Art and Film Festival, where children could watch a film, paint a mural and participate in other activities.

“We wanted to (host) something that was a little more interesting to the younger people,” Mayor Rusty Paul said in an interview about why the city changed its format. “Most of the adults know the (King) story, but one of the important things about him that we felt was … we begin to transmit (to children) what had happened. I’m of the generation that grew up in (in the 1960s) in Birmingham, Alabama, with King. …

“We wanted something that would bring younger people into the process and it’s worked. It’s our biggest crowd ever. We’ve had a lot of different things and we’ve structured the program so it’s more engaging for young people. So we had to change the format to bring in a different demographic, and we thought that demographic was crucial to this message.”

The festival included two screenings of “Our Friend, Martin,” an animated film about King. City spokeswoman Sharon Kraun said the theater was filled to capacity (300) for both screenings.

The Rev. Henry Bush, lead pastor and CEO of Sharon Community United Methodist Church in Sandy Springs, was one of four individuals who spoke at the beginning of the festival.

“We focus our intentions and our hearts that we may reflect your will,” Bush said in a prayer. “In the book of Exodus we read (about) our God leading his people to the promised land and delivering them from the yoke of bondage in Egypt. This is what MLK Jr. had in mind when he gave his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech (in Washington) and ‘Our God Is Marching’ speech in Selma, Alabama.”

Of the event, Collette Hopkins, project director of Diaspora U, one of the organizations partnering with the city for the festival, said, “It’s an exciting way to celebrate the life, the work and the legacy of Dr. King.”

The event came 15 days after the city hosted the Atlanta Jewish Solidarity Event to stand up against hate and anti-Semitism.

“We filled this whole place up,” Paul said of the Jan. 5 event that drew 2,o00 attendees. “People carried on the goals of Dr. King by standing in here and being solid against hate. Dr. King made a lot of progress in his time in the Civil Rights Movement. But unfortunately, hate and discrimination still exist in our society. That’s why we have this event every year: to continue to remind people we are all brothers and sisters created by the same God living together, trying to understand that our differences make us stronger.

“Our recognizing those differences and appreciating those differences are very important in our society today, particularly in a country like the United States, where we have so many people of different backgrounds, different religions, different races. It’s very important that we all learn to live together and respect those differences and understand those differences are part of our strength.”

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