Commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 13-15

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, Inc. will host its 37th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Resort on Saturday, Jan. 13.

For the first time since breakfast began in 1982, the keynote address will be given by the organization’s founder, Ms. Oralene Anderson Graves Simmons, who will address both her journey and the larger civil rights history that helped lead to the establishment of the MLK Association. The event is particularly poignant this year, as 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, TN.

The 2018 Prayer Breakfast begins at 8:30 a.m., with doors opening at 7:30 a.m.

Ms. Simmons is the great-granddaughter of Joseph Anderson, a slave who was held as collateral to guarantee a loan used to build Mars Hill College (now University) in Mars Hill, NC in 1856. One hundred and five years later, she became the first African American student enrolled at the college; since then, her own daughter and granddaughter have also become MHU alumnae.

Ms. Simmons organized and hosted Asheville’s first MLK Prayer Breakfast in 1982 at Asheville Parks & Recreation Department’s Montford Community Center, where she was director. After leaving the Montford Center in 1997, she led the YMI Cultural Center as a nonprofit organization under contract with Parks & Rec. Since her retirement as a Cultural Arts Supervisor, she has been active with the restoration committee for the Anderson Rosenwald School in Mars Hill and as a public speaker.

In 2015 Oralene Simmons was named an “Asheville Living Treasure,” and at the January 2016 Prayer Breakfast she received the Order of the Longleaf Pine, the state’s highest honor, presented on behalf of Gov. Pat McCrory. In April, 2017, the Buncombe County Commission named April 11 “Oralene Simmons Day” in recognition of her dedication to human rights and dignity; that August the Leadership Asheville Forum presented her with its Circle of Excellence Award. She anticipates releasing her memoir, Journey to Myself, in 2018.

In addition to the Prayer Breakfast, the MLK Association holds other events during the national holiday weekend to commemorate Dr. King and build upon his legacy of peace and justice. A Peace March and Rally will take place beginning at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 15, at St. James AME Church at Martin Luther King Drive and Hildebrand Street, followed at noon by a march to City-County Plaza. That evening at 6 p.m. a Candlelight Service at Central United Methodist Church’s Fellowship Hall honors area citizens and organizations that have dedicated themselves to the cause of social justice. The association also honors area youth with a Youth Celebration and Awards in the spring and commemorates Juneteenth each summer.

For information and details about the 2018 Prayer Breakfast, contact Darryl Rhymes, Chair of the Prayer Breakfast Committee, at (828) 335-6896 or For more information about the MLK Association and related activities, or to purchase tickets to the Prayer Breakfast (subject to availability), please visit the website at


Saturday, Jan. 13 at 8:30 a.m. – Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast at Crowne Plaza Resort. Tickets $25, $35, $15 (children 12 and under).

Monday, Jan. 15 at 11:30 a.m. – Peace March and Rally beginning at St. James AME Church at Martin Luther King Drive and Hildebrand Street, followed at noon by a march to City-County Plaza.

Monday, Jan. 15 at 6 p.m. – Candlelight Service at Central United Methodist Church’s Fellowship Hall.


About Shelby Harrell
Shelby Harrell is the editor of the Biltmore Beacon, editor of The Guide arts and entertainment publication and is a staff writer for Mountaineer Publishing. Originally from Asheville, she has worked in journalism for seven years and currently lives in Clyde, NC.