Organizers say Northampton Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances especially timely this year

Last modified: Friday, January 16, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — Local community activists say they are looking forward to especially thoughtful discussions this Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The American Friends Service Committee’s 30th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration Monday will include a panel discussion called, “Could Ferguson Happen Here?”

Organizers said the goal is to reflect on the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the local and national backlash that followed. This discussion will be part of 2 p.m. gathering at Edwards Church, 297 Main St., that will also include music by local singer-songwriter Marcia Gomes.

On the panel will be community leaders including Vanessa Lynch, who helped organize a November rally related to the Ferguson case, Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan, Northampton Police Chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz, and Ward 7 City Councilor Alisa F. Klein, whose public comments at the rally describing deaths of black people at the hands of police as “murder,” “racism” and “injustice” provoked strong reactions in the city.

Lynch is a member of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, an activist organization established after the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Also on the panel will be Whitney Battle-Baptiste, an archeology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a focus on the African Diaspora. The panel will be moderated by the Rev. Peter Ives of Northampton.

“I think just by virtue of the folks who are coming, we’re going to have a very good, interesting, compelling conversation about these issues,” said Jeff Napolitano, director of the Northampton-based western Massachusetts chapter of the AFSC at 2 Conz St.

Also new to the event this year is a children’s historical program presented by Clark University history professor and Northampton resident Ousmane Power-Greene at the Florence Community Center, 140 Pine St. at 10:30 a.m. The program, which Power-Greene has been holding locally for about five years, includes songs, poetry reading, and story time.

Power-Greene said he created the program because he believed there was a void of community events directed at younger children.

“We decided we needed something in the community that was really interactive, and really focused on younger kids,” he said.

This is preceded by the annual historical tour of Florence by Steve Strimer of the David Ruggles Center. The tour meets at 9 a.m. at the Sojourner Truth statue at the intersection of Pine and Park streets in Florence, outside of the community center.

More information and an updated list of the day’s activities can be found at the local AFSC website at

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at


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