Each year in January, Mary Toth, her colleagues in Howard County's Office of Human Rights and members of the county's Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission strive toward one goal: keeping Dr. King's message alive.
It's no easy task, and one that gets harder with each passing year since King's death in 1968 – even after years as racially magnifying as 2014.
One of the keys, Toth says, to making King more than just a face in a history book is to reflect on a salient truth King's life embodied: "Great things can happen if ordinary people believe they can do extraordinary things."
There are probably few in Howard County who embody this more than Dr. David Anderson, founder and senior pastor of Columbia's Bridgeway Community Church, who will be the keynote speaker as Howard honors Martin Luther King Jr. on Sunday, Jan. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Smith Theatre in Howard Community College's Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center.
In many ways, Bridgeway is a manifestation of King's core values of inclusion and acceptance, which have been crystallized in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Established in 1992, Bridgeway was created to be a multi-cultural and multi-racial church, focusing on black and white relations by combining contrasting elements found in traditionally black and traditionally white churches.
"Dr. King said 11 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week," Anderson said. "The church of Jesus Christ is the last bastion of self-selected racial segregation."
Anderson, who began championing his concept in the 1980s, remembers the naysayers.
"I got the same responses: 'That's great, that's so nice.' They would clap their hands together and say, 'Good luck. It's not going to happen, but good luck,'" he said.
He added: "They said if you have two cultures in a church one has to die. You can have black people in a white church, but it will still be a white church. Or you can have white people in a black church, but it will still be a black church."
More than 20 years later, Bridgeway has grown to 5,000 members from 52 nations and owns and occupies a 50,000-square-foot building off of Red Branch Road.
In addition to a diverse offering of ministries, the church has a food bank called Bridgeway Community Cupboard and recently opened a youth center.
Anderson says Bridgeway's success is the realization of a lifelong dream for him, an African American and Prince George's County native.
It's a dream he said was inspired by two men: his father, who was also a preacher, and King.
"For me, it's more living it out, and I feel like my life – in doing this church and the mission I have – is directly connected to both my father and Dr. King," he said. "I'm not preaching his dream, I am living his dream. And I have taken that dream and made it mine."
Anderson said Bridgeway can serve as a national and international model for faith-based and secular communities. Through a consulting business called BridgeLeader Network, Anderson advises corporations, governments and faith-based groups on methods of integration.
"In many ways we were trailblazers to start something that now, the world needs," Anderson said.
Anderson spent a week in Ferguson, Mo., in November to participate in group discussions for what he called the 5 Ps: protesters, police, politicians, pastors and private-sector business people.
He said he tried to foster understanding among the factions.
"These are real people with real lives. They aren't just protesters and police," he said.
Anderson said one of the keys toward achieving harmony is opening lines of conversation. "Comprehension begins with conversation. Conversation is the beginning."
Toth said Anderson was selected as a keynote speaker because of what he has done, and what he strives to do.
"Dr. Anderson is very interested in diversity," she said. "In 10 years, this will be a country of minority groups, and we wanted someone who was looking forward. ... We are trying to bring people who are going to say something that the audience can take away and apply."
This year marks the 30th annual celebration by the county commission. In addition to Anderson's speech, the free event will include musical performances, remarks from County Executive Allan Kittleman, remarks from County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty and two awards presentations.
Each year, the commission names winners of a student essay contest. There are six winners in two divisions: one for middle school and one for high school.
The commission also awards two "Living the Dream" Awards: one to an organization and one to an individual.
There will be a student art exhibition called Keeping the Dream Alive: Moving Forward. The exhibit, running from Jan. 7 to Jan. 18 at the Rouse Company Foundation Gallery, features artwork from Howard County Public School students grades K through 12.
On Monday, county offices will be closed,and residents are encouraged to take part in the county's "Day of Service."
Volunteer opportunities include: learning Hands-Only CPR, collecting old cell phones, shelving food donations, creating special occasion cards and assisting Days End Farm Horse Rescue.
For more information, visit http://www.volunteerhoward.org/hocomlkserve.