Chandler festival celebrates city’s diversity

Dr. Tamika Sanders plans to lead the “Be the change: Finding your movement” discussion at 10 a.m., Jan. 14 at the downtown library. It’s one of the events planned as part of the city’s Multicultural Festival. (City of Chandler)

The City of Chandler will once again be honoring residents who invoke the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The city plans to hand out three awards as part of its 28th annual Multicultural Festival & Celebration of Unity, scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 14. It will be the first time the city has done that in more than 12 years.

Last year, Councilman OD Harris honored a large group of residents on MLK Day, but that wasn’t an official city event. This year, the city has taken it on.

“I will tell you that we had in 1999, or 2000, we created a Dr. MLK Awards Luncheon, like all the other cities,” said Niki Tapia, the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program director. “And we had that lunch and it went from like a lunch into a breakfast. And we had that going until about 2008, 2009 when the recession hit, and then our staff was very limited.”

The three awards that will be handed out at this year’s festival are the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Achievement Award, the Emma Arbuckle Empowerment Award and a Youth Action Award.

The first award will go to an individual who embodies the values and ideas of Dr. King based on their extensive work promoting social and economic justice, defending civil rights and enhancing the dignity of all people in the Chandler community.

The second award is named after Emma Arbuckle, who was a South Chandler resident as well as a leader, advocate, and mother figure to her community. The award will recognize individuals who work to empower the community by creating opportunities for leadership, racial equality and solidarity.

The youth award will go to a student (18 and younger) who is actively working to promote nonviolence, commitment to service and courage among their peers in a way that reflects Dr. King’s values.

“Dr. King’s message, it’s all about the future,” Tapia said. “We want our youth to know that what they do, make it mean something and they have the potential to make a difference.”

Tapia said they did not receive a ton of nominees for the awards this year, but that was to be expected because this is the first time.

“We got about 20 total nominations,” she said. “You know, the first year, we really went out there, we went out to all the community members, and we extended the deadline. And the goal is, each year it’ll grow. And hopefully we’ll get a couple hundred in a few years.”

Tapia said this year’s Multicultural Festival is going to be larger than ever before.

“I want to say, probably about 30% more participants this year,” Tapia said. “So we have an amazing performance schedule with a variety of artists.”

One of the scheduled performances is by Indigenous Enterprise, a Native American dancing group. Tapia said they have performed at presidential inaugurations, Super Bowls and recently at a Phoenix Suns game.

The Arizona Coyotes will also be involved in the festival for the first time. Tapia said the festival usually draws between 4,000 and 6,000 people.

Tapia credited her staff with hunting down all kinds of different cultural groups to be involved. Some of those making their first appearance this year by a Croatian group and another representing the Greek Orthodox Church.

The festival takes place at AJ Chandler Park in downtown. But there are events scheduled throughout the month. The library is hosting a number of events in partnership with the library, including a screening of the film “Selma,” and a teen civil rights button making session.

“We want people to look forward to this every year,” Tapia said.

If you go

28th Annual Chandler Multicultural Festival & Celebration of Unity

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 14

Where: A.J. Chandler Park, downtown Chandler

INFO: chandleraz.gov/MulticulturalFestival

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