Grandmother and granddaughter in Tacoma celebrating MLK’s legacy with community activism

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TACOMA – Local communities are honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., including a “Granna” and granddaughter in the South Sound.

“My grandmother is my inspiration for peace,” said Jalean Peek, who is 13 years old.

Melannie Denise Cunningham and her granddaughter Peek attended Sunday night’s Redeeming the Prophetic Vision event at Urban Grace Church, which was held in partnership with The Conversation and Associated Ministries. During the event, Cunningham was honored with a 2020 Social Justice Award.

Cunningham is the  founder and president of Peace Works United in Lakewood, but her activism spans decades. She was recognized with the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize for her life achievements in social justice work and multicultural outreach and reconciliation.

“That [Peek’s] Granna – that’s what she calls me – Granna works,” said Cunningham. “So I just want her to do the same. So at this point, 13 years old, she’s president of her school.”

“I ran on ‘Hate won’t win’ and how kindness is everything,” said Peek of her platform when running for school president. “I remind students very often to be kind.”

Cunningham is known as the “253 Peace Queen.” She was given the opportunity to attend the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Norway last year, after being recognized for her lifelong activism in the Greater Tacoma region.

“Coming up a child of the 1950s, I saw activism and passion,” said Cunningham. “I was 11 years old when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. He became my role model and I wanted to become like him.”

Cunningham helped organized Tacoma’s first citywide MLK Day celebration more than 30 years ago. She also regularly visits South Africa with Women of Vision to help women and girls advocate for change.

“MLK Day is a day of service — the national day of service. So I would say to all of our community, figure it out. Do something,” said Cunningham, who said she's saddened with the current state of affairs.

Both grandmother and granddaughter are encouraging everyone to negotiate for peace and give back to the community this Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“I feel like once students and young people can be kind our future is going to be a lot better,” said Peek.

“Are you giving love? Because that’s what we need right now. More love,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham helped organize Tacoma’s first citywide MLK Day celebrations more than 30 years ago. The annual event is happening 11 a.m. Monday at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center.

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