×

Amherst residents honor MLK with ceremony, songs

  • In the front row from left, Jo Ball, Margaret Keyser, Mareatha Wallace, and in the back row, Rich Blatchly, Joojo Ampiah-Bonney and Jacqui Wallace, all of Hadley-based Wesley United Methodist Church Choir, sing Jan. 14, 2017 at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast at Amherst Regional Middle School. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Adrienne Wallace, left, and Heather Lord, both of the Amherst Area Gospel Choir, drum Saturday at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast at Amherst Regional Middle School. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Richmond Ampiah-Bonney, president of the MLK Breakfast Committee, left, present Amherst Regional High School teacher Gloria Davis an honor for exemplary leadership within the community Jan. 14, 2017 at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast at Amherst Regional Middle School. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Richmond Ampiah-Bonney, president of the MLK Breakfast Committee, leads the crowd in singing Saturday at the annual celebration of the slain civil rights leader at Amherst Regional Middle School. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Members of the Hadley-based Wesley United Methodist Church Choir and Amherst Area Gospel Choir sing Jan. 14, 2017 at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast at Amherst Regional Middle School. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Area high schools students and a teacher receiving MLK scholarships and honors stand for a blessing given by Reverend Betty Lou Carthon of Goodwin Memorial AME Zion Church Jan. 14, 2017 at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast at Amherst Regional Middle School. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • In the front row from left, Khalila Lord-Arond and Ekua Ampiah-Bonney, and at back, Kodwo Ampiah-Bonney and Michaela Bowen, all of the Amherst Area Gospel Choir, sing Jan. 14, 2017 at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast at Amherst Regional Middle School. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



@StephMurr_Jour
Sunday, January 15, 2017

AMHERST — The Amherst Middle School auditorium swelled with song Saturday morning as more than 100 community members gathered to celebrate the legacy of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and recognize local leaders for their contributions to society in his spirit.

Songs and community were at the center of the 33rd annual MLK breakfast, which focused on gospel music rather than a keynote speaker.

“We will not have as many words as we sometimes do,” said former state Rep. Ellen Story, who led the event alongside Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. “Instead of words, we’re going to have notes. We’re going to have music today.”

The event showcased singers young and old, from the Wildwood Elementary School Choir, the Wesley United Methodist Church Choir of Hadley and the Amherst Area Gospel Choir. The groups sang a range of songs — from gospel music and African freedom songs to pop and hip-hop tunes.

Though the event was celebratory, leaders were careful to note they believe challenges lie ahead.

“We have some battles and struggles ahead of us,” said Jacqueline Wallace, director of the Amherst Area Gospel Choir. “We have got to be healing — healing for our pain, healing for our strength.”

Rosenberg pledged that Massachusetts would stand up and fight if equality or civil rights are threatened under a Donald Trump administration. Sharing an excerpt of a piece he wrote following Trump’s victory, Rosenberg called for commitment to equality and justice among those who live in Massachusetts.

“Whenever they fall short, we in Massachusetts will stand tall and fight back,” Rosenberg said.

To begin the morning, more than 100 people crowded the school cafeteria for a breakfast. More than a dozen students from the Amherst Regional High School club People of Color United volunteered at the event. Three freshman students, Lydia Sullivan, Sheila Chelaghe and Catherine Paredes, said they were happy to hand out pamphlets and direct visitors where to go.

At 10 a.m., the crowd filed into the auditorium for the music-centered program.

Some two dozen Wildwood Elementary School students sang a medley of pop and hip-hop songs mixed with poetry and quotations.

Director Jake Brownell led the students as they sang “Blessings (Reprise)” by hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper. Two students recited Maya Angelou’s poem “Human Family” during the song. The group also sang “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. In the middle of the song, three students recited poignant quotes. The crowd clapped and sang along.

The Wesley United Methodist Church Choir, directed by Catherine Bennett, also performed. The group sang songs including “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” and “Order My Steps.” Richmond Ampiah-Bonney, president of the MLK Breakfast Committee, sang with the group.

Leadership recognized

Leaders from all walks of life were recognized for their service during the breakfast. Story was presented with a special recognition award by her successor, Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose. Story, who received a standing ovation, is appreciated for her “high plane of dignity and discipline,” Rosenberg said.

Gloria Davis, a teacher at Amherst Regional High School, was given an awarded by RaDAR (Race and Discipline Action Rights) Committee. Davis told the crowd she is a proud member of the school’s social studies department and works every day to teach students about social justice.

“We grow, we pass the baton,” Davis said.

Additionally, five high school students — all seniors — were awarded Martin Luther King Jr. scholarships.

Julianna Marie Bowen, 17, of ARHS, said the award was not only meaningful to her, but also to her family.

Bowen is a member of the Amherst Area Gospel Choir. She brought fellow choir members to tears as she sang a solo in the gospel song “Can’t Give Up Now.”

“Nobody told me the road would be easy, and I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me,” Bowen sang. A fellow singer removed her glasses to wipe her tears.

Kowdwo Ayken Panyin Ampiah-Bonney, a 17-year-old who attends Belchertown High School, said he works against racial discrimination and discrimination against people with disabilities. In his acceptance speech, Amphiah-Bonney highlighted his work singing with Whole Children, a program in Hadley for children with disabilities. In 2012, he noted, members of Whole Children performed at the 28th MLK Breakfast.

Sara Elizabeth Scagliarini, 17, attends Hopkins Academy. In her acceptance speech, she highlighted her successful push to change the color of her school’s graduation gowns. Hopkins students now wear a single color gown on graduation day, rather than two colors based on gender.

Benjamin McLeod Ryan, 17, of Amherst Regional, and Hichul Chung, of Belchertown High, received Mary Wyatt Awards, in honor of the late breakfast founder. Chung emphasized that a leader must put others first, and said he hopes to continue serving others in college.

Ryan discussed his Eagle Scout project in his acceptance speech. He worked to improve the children’s play structure at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley to make it safer for kids.

The Rev. Betty Lou Carthon, of the Goodwin Memorial AME Zion Church, led a blessing for the scholarship recipients. The Rev. Byungmon Lee of the Wesley United Methodist Church led a benediction at the conclusion of the event.

Following the ceremony, Ryan gathered with his friends Sam Boyle and Kahil Henderson. Both are seniors and members of the ARHS Jazz Band, which performed during the breakfast portion of the event. The teens were happy to see Ryan receive the award.

“We’re extraordinarily proud of him, and we’re excited to see where he goes next,” Boyle said.

Stephanie Murray can be reached at stephaniemur@umass.edu