Marvin Lewis, a former defensive linebacker for Idaho State University who retired as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018, will be the keynote speaker at an annual banquet hosted by the Idaho Falls African American Alliance on Thursday night. The video above is a 2018 podcast about civil rights in eastern Idaho. | Courtesy photos
IDAHO FALLS – It’s been more than 40 years since David Snell and his wife first moved to Idaho Falls and became one of the few African American couples living in eastern Idaho.
The Idaho Falls African American Alliance, a nonprofit he helped form 17 years ago to promote “understanding and respect among all races,” is holding its 16th annual banquet in honor of Martin Luther King later this week.
As Snell reflects on the civil rights movement King led throughout the 1960s, he tells EastIdahoNews.com it’s a vision that’s still relevant and it teaches that “we’re all on the same team.”
Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, marks 60 years since the march on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. | CNN file photo
More than 200,000 demonstrators gathered in the nation’s capital to make a stand for jobs and freedom. It was August 28, 1963, a day that has become historic not just for being one of the largest gatherings for civil rights of its time, but also because of the words spoken by the man behind it all — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation,” King said as he began his remarks to the crowd.
Generations have grown up hearing about his words in schools across the country. Many are familiar with portions of that speech, including the oft-quoted line, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Jan. 16, 2023 marks nearly 60 years since the events of that day and King’s 94th birthday. The campaign for a holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination in 1968, but it would be another 15 years before it became a federal holiday.
How Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a holiday
USA Today reports President Ronald Reagan signed a bill on Nov. 3, 1983, designating the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The first nationwide observance didn’t occur until Jan. 20, 1986.
In 1994, U.S. Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act to dedicate it as a national day of service.
In January 2006, then Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne designated the same day Human Rights Day for residents of the Gem State.
That phrase is the theme for this year’s banquet, and it’s a principle that Snell says was demonstrated during the NFL football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 2 after Damar Hamlin collapsed during the first quarter.
RELATED | Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin released from hospital 7 days after collapse
“Many saw the hit that canceled the game, but I saw more than that. I saw 65,000 people in the stands saying prayers for one guy. It didn’t matter if you were a Cincinnati Bengals fan or a Buffalo Bills fan,” Snell says. “I had (come up with) the theme for the banquet two or three months ago and this proved to me that I was thinking in the right direction.”
The banquet will take place at the Mountain America Center in Snake River Landing. Marvin Lewis, a former defensive linebacker for Idaho State University who retired as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018, is the keynote speaker.
Getting Lewis to headline the organization’s annual banquet is a feat Snell has been trying to pull off for the last two or three years. The fact that it’s happening now after a tragedy at a Bengals game is sheer happenstance, but Snell couldn’t be happier about the timing.
“What better person to talk about teamwork,” says Snell. “I’m thrilled with how everything has come together. This is the highlight of all my 16 years working with the African American Alliance.”
A distinguished football career
Lewis was born on Sept. 23, 1958, in McDonald Pennsylvania, according to his bio on the pro football history website. He started playing football at age 9 and won a scholarship to ISU in 1977.
He reportedly won all-Big Sky Conference honors three out of his four years on the team and went on to help the team win a national championship as an assistant coach in 1981.
His first professional coaching position came in 1992 when he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was hired as the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens four years later.
Since 2000, the Ravens have been widely considered the best defensive unit in NFL history after setting a record for the fewest points allowed that season. The team became Superbowl champions several months later.
In 2009, Lewis was named the Associated Press Head Coach of the Year. He took the team to the playoffs every year between 2011 and 2014, and by the end of the 2014 season, he had the most wins of any Bengals coach, the website says.
“Marvin Lewis is one of the most respected minds in our game,” says Arizona State’s head coach Herm Edwards, to whom Lewis has been a special advisor since 2019. “Whether as the winningest coach in the franchise history of the Cincinnati Bengals, or the architect of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, Marvin has succeeded everywhere he has been, and he has done it the right way.”
Rallying around a cause
In the days following Hamlin’s collapse, Snell was encouraged by the outpouring of support for Hamlin and his family from people all across the country, including ESPN host Dan Orlovsky’s prayer for the Buffalo Bills player during his live broadcast Tuesday. For him, it’s a lesson about unity that ties in nicely with the mission of his organization.
RELATED | ESPN host pauses live broadcast to pray for NFL player Damar Hamlin
“Look at the money they raised. Look at the unity that happened. That’s what can happen in all of our communities,” says Snell.
Snell is proud to call Idaho home and he is encouraging people to attend the banquet and rally around the alliance’s cause of “promoting understanding and respect” and “contributing to the educational, economic, and cultural growth” of the community.
“I could not have had a better time in Idaho than I’ve had (over the last 41 years),” Snell says. “I love it and the people (who live here).”
The MLK Banquet is happening on Jan. 19 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. inside the MAC’s Blue Cross of Idaho Convention Center. A buffet dinner will be provided by the venue. On the menu is tri-tip beef and roasted chicken thighs with all the trimmings, along with cheesecake and lemonade.
To purchase tickets or learn more, call Snell at (208) 569-6768. You can also visit the website.
Event flyer | IFAAA
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