Springfield celebrates legacy of slain civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
January 18, 2021 By Peter Goonan | email@example.com SPRINGFIELD — The annual celebration of the life and legacy of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. might have taken a different form this year — it was presented online, instead of in an event at the MassMutual Center that typically draws hundreds — but the message of continuing to work for equality and justice remained the same. Gov. Charlie Baker used his remarks to highlight the state’s recent police reform legislation — which he called a “big step forward” for racial justice — while other speakers called for continued advocacy for racial and social justice in the aftermath of the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald J. Trump. In addition to Baker, speakers included Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, Martin Luther King Family Services President Ronn Johnson, and Waleska Lugo-DeJesus, CEO of Inclusive Strategies LLC and former director of the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley. They said King’s message is more critical than ever considering the nation’s recent racial tensions and the coronavirus pandemic. Johnson urged residents to push to improve the city and nation, and to give back to the community. “I am drawing inspiration, as I hope you are, from the life and tireless commitment Dr. King made to push beyond the concerns of any given day, driven by a commitment to address the racist societal norms of America,” Johnson said. “While Dr. King’s voice was silenced, his vision was not, and his legacy lives on through the ways we answer that question — what are you doing for others?” Johnson urged public service such as participating in the Read Aloud program in the schools, volunteering in a food pantry, or donating to an organization that works on racial and social justice issues. The governor, who has attended past celebrations of the holiday in Springfield, said King’s message is “more important now than ever.” He cited events such as the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, which touched off a wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Baker said there has been recent progress in Massachusetts, including the recent police reform bill. He said he believes the legislation, which he signed Dec. 31, significantly increases police transparency and accountability “and is a big step forward in promoting racial justice.” Baker also spoke about state policies aimed at increasing access to services and financial aid to communities of color and businesses during the pandemic. “Even when this pandemic is over, the fact will remain that we have more work to do to improve health outcomes for people of color,” Baker said. “We must also focus on the social determinants of health as the root of these disparities.” Sarno echoed the need to confront the current “tumultuous” times, citing the suspicious fires at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield last month. “We will move forward together, aspiring the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King for empowerment, for social justice, economics, education, and we will move forward where skin color will not matter,” Sarno said. King spoke at length about common decency, Sarno said, and the mayor added that “good will always win over evil.” In remarks titled “The Dream is Calling You,” Lugo-DeJesus said people need to join in creating a better nation and society. “Always feel that you count, always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance,” Lugo-DeJesus said. “However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which we live. You have a responsibility to seek and to make life better for everybody. As so, you must be involved in the struggle for freedom and justice.” Considering the riot at the Capitol, she said, “we need to name it, call it out, address it, and fix it.” The presenting partners of the holiday celebration were Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, the Community Music School of Springfield, D.R.E.A.M. Studios, Springfield College and Focus Springfield. Musical acts included the MLK Day House Band, featuring Community Music School of Springfield founding faculty member Billy Arnold; the Springfield CommUnity Chorale led by Vanessa Ford; the MLK Festival Bucket Drummers, led by community school faculty member Rick Marshall; a performance of “Glory” by Community Music School Music students from Springfield and Holyoke Public Schools; and the MLK Festival Orchestra led by community music school faculty member Marty Knieriem. There was a dramatic dance selection from D.R.E.A.M. Studios and a spoken word performance from Enchanted Circle Theater students. The Focus Springfield program can be watched on-line here Note to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate’s links, we may earn a commission.
Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services 106 Wilbraham Road Springfield, MA 01109 (ADMIN) (413) 746-3655 MLKJRFS Management Team