From the Congo to Paris, France to South America to the Middle East—Friendsview residents have lived and worked all over the world. Some as professionals, others as ambassadors for their faith, but all of them as people who love the diversity of cultures represented around the globe. With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day being celebrated on January 17 and Black History Month in February, diversity is top of mind for many in our community. When we first began asking residents their thoughts on civil rights, equity, and diversity the overwhelming response reflected the Quaker Heritage that Friendsview is founded on: everyone, regardless of race or sex, is equal in the eyes of God. One resident, Lionel Muthiah, shared, “It’s God’s gift to us, to experience many cultures.”
As a Sri Lankan Tamil transplant from Malaysia, Lionel’s introduction to the United States began in Tennessee during 1956—a volatile time for the civil rights movement. “I wanted to observe race relations in the South,” he shared. “So, I asked to be sent there through a Crusade Scholarship with the United Methodist Church.” The church sponsored his enrollment into the Scarritt College for Christian Workers (now the Scarritt Bennett Center) in Nashville, Tennessee. Segregated busses and not being served in cafés with friends of color are just a few of the racial tensions Lionel experienced almost immediately. It was years later that he would even run into roadblocks to ordination simply for marrying Marion, a white woman from North Dakota.
After getting married in 1959 and serving for a few years as missionaries in Malaysia (where two of their four kids were born) Lionel and Marion settled in North Dakota. His dream of being ordained in the United Methodist Church took significantly longer than usual because of being in a “mixed marriage” according to the leadership at the time. Eventually, he did receive his certification and continued his mission to understand race relations in America. Lionel’s journey took a big hit when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Like many of us during monumental moments in history he recalled his exact location when he heard the news. He was driving between Canada and his home in North Dakota when the shocking announcement came over the radio. “I had to pull over to the side of the road and weep.” He remembered the time Dr. King spoke at a chapel service at Scarritt. “He was more likely to host an altar call than to incite everyone to pick up arms,” Lionel recalled from that inspiring service.
As most know already, Dr. King was a Christian leader of the civil rights movement who promoted equity through nonviolence and civil disobedience—his most famous demonstration being the “I Have a Dream” speech. As a Nobel Peace Prize winner, he continues to inspire all of us to unite against racism and inequity.
In Yamhill County the main celebration of Dr. King’s life takes place every year at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg and was originally organized by Lionel in 2010. It all began with a conversation with then mayor, Bob Andrews. The mayor encouraged Lionel to form a committee to plan a celebration that would honor Dr. King’s life. “We hoped to bring about an awareness of the contributions of his life,” Lionel said.
January 17, 2022 will be the 12th Annual MLK celebration hosted by the Chehalem Cultural Center. Their Director of Arts Programs, Carissa Burkett, stated that the goal of each year is to “honor and remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to bring it into context with our world and community today”—staying true to Lionel’s original intent. The celebration has grown to an audience of around 400 each year, with even more viewing on a live-stream in 2022.
Numerous Friendsview residents have attended each event, and some even serving on the planning committee. One resident, Jeanine Elliot, participated in the planning from 2018-2020 alongside other community partners including the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Newberg School District, Newberg Public Library, George Fox University, Friendsview, and more.
Jeanine said her role involved being a link between the city and residents. “I worked with several different resident committees to encourage them to offer programs at Friendsview with themes of justice, peace, inclusivity, equity, diversity, culture, and race/ethnicity,” she shared in an email.
Even though it’s been a few years since Lionel participated in the planning of the MLK celebration, it’s still a family affair. His youngest son, Rick Muthiah has served on the committee since 2016. Rick worked alongside his father for one year before Lionel retired from the planning process.
“Dad has always been invested in building community and bridging divides,” Rick said. “As a kid, I wasn’t always enthused about my parents’ desire to attend cross-cultural events such as pow-wows or concerts by international musicians. As an adult, I appreciate the example they set throughout my life. Wherever they lived, whether in Malaysia or North Dakota, Mom and Dad had relationships with people from diverse backgrounds – Chinese, English, Indian, German, Native American, African- American, Japanese, Christian, Muslim, and more.”
Lionel hasn’t been alone in his desire to “bridge divides” or understand other cultures and worldviews. Friendsview residents have a long history of organizing events that promote equity and activism locally and nationally. Just on our main campus the Education Committee hosted guest speakers about civil rights. Devotions taken from Dr. King’s teachings have been featured at many services. The Art on the Wall Committee made it a priority for artwork displayed in the community to represent all different races. The resident-run library always has a MLK book display this time of the year.
In light of Black History Month observed in February, residents wholeheartedly continue the discussion on “what can we do to support people of color and respect the light of God that shines in everyone?” As Lionel put in his interview with staff, “There’s still work to be done.”
What other events honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month would you like to see in our community? Or do you have a timely and relevant story like Lionel’s that could be featured in another blog post? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us here to share your thoughts.
Nikki Deckon has been on staff at Friendsview since 2018 in various roles and in long term care for several years. Before working with seniors, she wrote/produced hundreds of talk radio programs and vignettes; was published in a couple of editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul and other print publications including The Oregonian, Kids NW, The Sun and more. After twenty years of marriage, she feels that she’s still in the “honeymoon” phase and is enjoying raising her teenage boys in Newberg, a mere two miles from Friendsview.