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Racial Justice Themes Stressed At MLK Events


       Events are being held across western Massachusetts to honor Martin Luther King Jr.  The federal holiday commemorating the civil rights hero is Monday.

       The office of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hosted an annual celebration at City Hall Friday, the date of King’s birth.  There were speeches, prayers and poems were read, and a traditional civil rights anthem was sung.

    Mayor Sarno issued a proclamation and students from the Martin Luther King Charter School in Springfield read essays about King’s life, his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and the importance of education in the lives of young black people.

   Springfield NAACP chapter president Bishop Talbert Swan delivered the keynote speech that focused on the recent high-profile killings of young black men by police officers.

   " We ought to be able to live in a land where a 12-year-old playing in a park can live to see their 13th birthday," he said.

   Swan said he sees echoes of the Black Lives Matter movement in some of King’s writings and speeches.

   "Although it was sparked by some of the killings of black people by police officrs, the Black Lives Matter movement is also concerned with a lack of justice in terms of employment, economic opportunities, disparity in the educational system and basic injustice across the length and breadth of our nation, " Swan said.

Credit WAMC
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and NAACP Springfield chapter president Bishop Talbert Swan chat prior to the start of the King day observance. Seated next to Swan is State Rep. Benjamin Swan of Springfield, who marched with King at several civil rights demonstrations in the south in the 1960s.

   The Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award was presented by Swan to Wesley United Methodist Church of Springfield for contributions to race relations, justice, and human rights.  The church is hosting its 33rd annual scholarship breakfast Saturday to honor King.

  The Pastors’ Council of Greater Springfield is holding a service Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Shiloh Seventh-Day Adventist Church.  Organizers expect 500 people to attend.

  On Monday, four organizations are hosting a King Day celebration at the MassMutual Center in Springfield from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. It will feature music and dance performances from hundreds of schoolchildren.

   The western Massachusetts chapter of the American Friends Service Committee will host its 32nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration Monday in Northampton. There will be a walking tour to point out houses in Florence that were part of the Underground Railroad.  That will be followed by a children’s program at 10:30 a.m.

Activists are planning to go door-to-door to distribute Black Lives Matter lawn signs, and a Black Lives Matter banner is going to be raised at Northampton City Hall, according to AFSC chapter director Jeff Napolitano.

   " The importance of this day in  our estimation has been the ongoing burgeoning struggle particularly through the Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice, " said Napolitano.

AFSC’s annual convocation will be held at 2 p.m. at Edwards Church and will include panel discussions on racial justice.

  All of the Northampton events are free and open to the public.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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