Made in Kentuckiana: Local company's role in MLK Monument in Washington


by Kelsey Starks

Posted on January 21, 2013 at 7:43 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 21 at 8:01 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Inauguration day in Washington falls on the same day as the Martin Luther King, Junior holiday. There’s no place where the two occasions converge more symbolically than at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. monument near the Washington Mall.

The famous “I have a dream” was first spoken fifty years ago near the place where now Dr. King rises above Washington. More than 1000 people played a role in putting that sculpture in the nation’s capitol including Terena Bell of Louisville.

“I got a letter in the mail asking for donations,” Bell explains.  “At the time, we were a newer company.  I said we can’t donate money but we can donate translation.  We linguistically made it happen.”

The Highlands-based company, “In Every Language” specializes in translation services usually for businesses in conferences or paperwork. So when they got the call to become the liaison between the Washington, DC Martin Luther King Junior Foundation and the Chinese sculptor hired to create the monument, they agreed it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Translating meant more than just translating words between the foundation and the non-English speaking sculptor, Lei Yixin.  It also meant translating the culture of the monument and the movement behind it.

“Cultural differences come up and that’s part of our job that makes it different from typing it in Google,” Bell explains.  “We are able to stop and say hey, there’s a cultural difference here. There’s something beyond language that needs to be thought of.” 

There’s been some criticism since the unveiling of the monument in August of 2011 that Dr. King appeared too stern.  Bell says he would have looked even sterner had it not been for their translation. 

“There was one point when the foundation was arguing with the sculptor saying, ‘Please give him a neck. He looks like a sumo wrestler,’ Bell says.  But then it dawned on them that sumo wrestlers are respected in this part of the world and in our part of the world, they’re not.”

As a result, his look was softened and his neck lengthened.  The foundation also faced criticism for hiring a Chinese sculptor instead of an American.  But according to Terena Bell, the choice was perfect. 

“I really think it says something about the essence of the monument and what it’s going to say to future generations; it doesn’t matter the race of the sculptor.”

Now 30 feet above the ground where millions stood to see that speech 50 years ago, the monument towers above as a symbol of the people who came together to make it happen.

Find out more about In Every Language at; or on twitter @InEveryLanguage.