2019 MLK Celebration Keynote Speakers and Theme Announced

Cynthia Bramlett Thompson

Charleston’s 10-day Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, the largest and longest-running event of its kind in South Carolina, will be headlined in January by Cynthia Bramlett Thompson, a vice president of the Spoleto Festival USA board of directors and former board chair of Girl Scouts USA, and Bishop Samuel L. Green, Sr., presiding bishop of the Seventh Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The annual tribute’s theme will be “Embrace the Dream, Create the Change.”

The MLK Ecumenical Service will be held at 4:00 p.m. Sunday, January 20 at Morris Street Baptist Church, where Bishop Green will deliver the keynote address to more than 1,000 expected attendees. The service is free and open to the public.

Viewing the church as a proponent of change, Bishop Green places a priority on meeting the needs of the community, from housing and job training to youth education and confronting injustice.

Prior to serving as presiding bishop of the Seventh Episcopal District, Bishop Green served as presiding bishop of the Fifteenth Episcopal District, encompassing Angola, Namibia, and the western portion of South Africa, and the Twelfth Episcopal District, encompassing Oklahoma and Arkansas. During his time with the Twelfth District, Bishop Green led a successful effort to attain accreditation by the church’s only junior college, Shorter College, and remodel three of its buildings without the use of loans. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity degree from Turner Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in religious studies from the University of South Florida. 

Bishop Samuel Green

The MLK Business and Professional Breakfast will cap the 10-day tribute. Held at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, January 22 at the Charleston Gaillard Center, the event will feature Cynthia Bramlett Thompson as keynote speaker and City of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg as honorary chairman.

Thompson, a businesswoman and philanthropist, currently serves as a vice president of the Spoleto Festival USA board of directors. In 2002, she was elected chair of the board of directors of Girl Scouts USA, the world’s largest female organization with more than 3.7 million members.

In 2016, she became the first African-American board chair of the Toledo Museum of Art after serving on its board for more than 12 years. She is a board member emeritus of Girls, Inc. and has served as both a trustee of the University of Toledo and a member of the Missouri chapter of the International Women’s Forum, among other leadership roles.

Thompson, who holds an MBA from Washington University, was also previously a co-owner of a manufacturing firm that at one point ranked as number 28 on Black Enterprise magazine’s list of the 100 largest black-owned industrial and service businesses in the U.S.

The MLK Business and Professional Breakfast is again expected to be attended by hundreds of Charleston’s business, civic, and clergy leaders; at the 2018 event, 676 ticket-holders packed a large ballroom at the Charleston Gaillard Center.

This year’s theme encourages participants to hold Dr. King’s dream close to their hearts and to take visible action to realize that dream. “Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation calling out prejudice when we see it in our organizations or something more widely visible like leading a march, every one of our actions can create a change in someone else—or even ourselves,” said Elonda Fair O’Neill, Esq., chair of the YWCA Greater Charleston board of directors. “Attending this year’s celebration in public support of racial equality is a great step toward putting Dr. King’s dream into action.” 

Organizations can sign up now to sponsor the 2019 MLK Celebration or advertise in the program booklet, and individuals or groups can sign up to march in the MLK Day Parade, at ywcagc.org or by calling (843) 722-1644. MLK Breakfast tickets will be available for $45 per person in early January.

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