Rally, workshops, virtual gatherings to mark MLK Day in area

  • Anna Sabach sings as part of a children’s choir led by Nerissa Nields at the MLK Day celebration at Edwards Church in Northampton, Jan. 21, 2019. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2022 7:11:15 PM
Modified: 1/11/2022 7:10:22 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Government offices and many businesses will be closed Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which would have been the iconic civil rights leader’s 93rd birthday, and local events are planned to fight for a continuation of King’s work.

An 11 a.m. rally outside Northampton City Hall, organized by Declaration for American Democracy Coalition, is one of many around the country to mark the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Action. Promotional materials say the rallies are meant “to demand our elected officials pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, without letting outdated Senate loopholes get in the way.”

For the second year running, the annual MLK Day breakfast in Amherst is canceled. Instead, the Amherst Human Rights Commission will host a virtual celebration. The 2 p.m. program features a traditional libation ceremony, community readings, discussion and songs. Attendees can join online at https://amherstma.zoom.us/j/82194072586 using webinar ID 821 9407 2586, or by phone at (253) 215-8782 or (346) 248-7799.

Due to the ongoing, record-breaking surge in COVID-19 cases, The Resistance Center for Peace and Justice (TRC) will also host a fully virtual program for its 38th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Northampton. Last year’s event was also fully virtual due to COVID-19.

Myra Lam, a founding board member of TRC, said this year’s celebration will be the organization’s last time as host.

“Like a lot of nonprofits, we’ve really struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lam said. “We’re not able to sustain our programs. … We’re moving towards the decision to merge some aspects of our programming with Massachusetts Peace Action,” which would open up the possibility of restoring the MLK Day event in the future.

“Something we can take solace in is that there’s not any sort of dearth of individuals and organizations doing this work,” she said.

TRC said Monday’s traditional walking tour of Florence’s African-American Heritage Trail is canceled, but a virtual ceremony and workshops will be offered in the afternoon. The website of the David Ruggles Center for History & Education offers a map for self-guided heritage trail tours, and a video tour is available on the Sojourner Truth Memorial page on YouTube.

Registration is required to attend the online programs. Attendees can sign up at www.theresistancecenter.org/mlkday, up to and including the day of the event.

An online convocation ceremony is scheduled for noon. The event’s keynote speaker is Western Massachusetts Commissioner on Indian Affairs Rhonda Anderson, who is co-director of the Ohketeau Cultural Center in Ashfield. Northampton City Councilor At-Large Jamila Gore also plans to speak and Naima Penniman will present a poetry reading.

Virtual workshops run from 1:30 to 4:15 p.m. and include “Indigenous Reparations in Practice,” led by Western Mass Showing Up for Racial Justice; “Privilege and Intersectionality,” led by Indivisible Pittsfield; and “Restorative Community Building for Justice,” led by Racial Equity and Learning (REAL) in the Northampton Public Schools.

Lam said the annual event highlights the ongoing work to challenge what King called the Three Evils of Society: systemic racism, poverty and war. The theme of this year’s celebration is land justice.

The U.S. “was founded on the theft of land from indigenous people, and on top of that, the heritage that the land carries is one of enslavement,” Lam said. More than 500 years after Columbus arrived in the Americas, she said, continuous work is needed to “repair the harms that have been caused.”

James Earl Ray shot and killed King on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. King was 39 and had gone to the city to support a sanitation workers’ strike.

Ten years earlier, he had survived an assassination attempt when a woman stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener during a Harlem book signing. King famously told the crowd, “That’s all right. Everything is going to be all right.” He said the incident reaffirmed his belief in nonviolence.

President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law in 1983 declaring King’s birthday a national holiday.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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