30th annual breakfast in Amherst remembers MLK



Last modified: Sunday, January 19, 2014

AMHERST — When Mzamo P. Mangaliso was growing up in apartheid South Africa, he and his peers admired Martin Luther King Jr. from afar.

Now, the associate professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management feels hopeful about the next generation of leaders.

This was the message he gave as the keynote speaker for the 30th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community breakfast at the Amherst Regional Middle School Saturday. The theme for this year’s event was “Champions of Freedom.”

“I’m forever an optimist, and I think there will be a breakthrough,” Mangaliso said in an interview after his talk.

The event is held each year as a fundraiser for the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, awarded to high school seniors for academic excellence, community service and leadership. Depending on how much money is raised, awards range from $500 to $1500 per student, said Richmond Ampiah-Bonney, a lead organizer of the breakfast. He said more than 250 tickets were purchased this year.

Following breakfast in the middle school cafeteria, the program continued in the auditorium, where Mangaliso gave his talk. The presentation was emceed by State Sen. Stan Rosenberg of Amherst. Mangaliso was introduced by UMass history professor Joye Bowman. The Crocker Farm Elementary School chorus, the Valley Rock Choir, and the Amherst Area Gospel Choir all gave performances.

Addressing the crowd, Mangaliso drew connections between the work of human rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and the late South African president Nelson Mandela, to whom this year’s event was dedicated.

Mangaliso described several qualities he feels are important for leadership. He spoke of the difference between “involvement” and “commitment.” He spoke of the ways the three leaders were committed to their cause, such as how Mandela faced the death penalty during the Rivonia trial against him and other leaders of the African National Congress who fought against the apartheid. Mandela was issued life in prison following the trial, which took place in 1963 and 1964, but ended up serving 27 years. He became the president of South Africa in 1994.

Mangaliso said many people who are “involved” would “chicken out” if the death penalty were put in front of them. He also made reference to the 1948 assassination of Gandhi, and noted that there were previous assassination attempts before that.

“These are people who are committed to the struggle,” Mangaliso said, adding, “Whatever color you are — it doesn’t matter.”

He said he hopes to see a shift toward more positive affirmation in education. To demonstrate how he feels students are currently being conditioned, he began to recite the multiplication tables of the number 13, and asked the only the young people in the audience react. He began on 13, then went to 26, followed by 39. When he suddenly said, “75” along the way, the audience called out, “No.” He pointed out how no one said anything when he called out the correct numbers, and instead waited to speak until he said something incorrect.

“Our system trains people to find what is wrong, not affirm what is right,” Mangaliso said.

Following Mangaliso’s speech, Ampiah-Bonney led an award ceremony in which he named this year’s high school scholarship winners — Michaela Bowen, Ambyr Braxton, Tasia Clemons and Angela Ononibaku — who each spoke briefly of how King’s legacy has influenced their lives.

“He has taught me that a true leader takes risks,” said Ononibaku.

The winners also spoke of the Minority Student Achievement Network National Student Conference that took place at the high school in September. At the conference, students were directed to form an action plan out of what they learned. As a result, Bowen said, students from the high school developed a plan for mentoring fifth grade students at Fort River Elementary School.

Citizen awards were presented to poet Willie Wheeler, WTCC radio host Shirley Whitaker, breakfast planning committee member Joyce Hines, Amherst Area Gospel Choir director Jacqueline Wallace, Amherst Regional High School teacher Shari Abbott, and Rachel Bowen-Coblyn, who is the assistant director of human resources for the Amherst-Pelham Regional public school district.

Addressing the crowd, Whitaker took a moment to thank everyone who she feels has helped her in organizing outreach to minorities.

“Whatever I’ve done, and whatever I will do in the future is because of you,” she said. “I would be naïve to say I acted alone.”


 


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