Songs, speeches mark Northampton’s MLK Day gathering

  • Martin Jones asks a question of Dr. Ousmane Power-Greene who was part of a Panel of three called the Influence of Dr. King at the MLK Day celebration at Edwards Church Monday afternoon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anna Sabach sings as part of a children’s choir led by Nerissa Nields at Monday’s MLK Day celebration at Edwards Church. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nicole Walsh attends the MLK Day celebration at Edwards Church in Northampton, Monday afternoon, with her two children, Maylyn and Maceo Golossi. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Brenda Cepeda dances with the group Bomba De Aqui who performed at the MLK Day celebration at Edwards Church Monday afternoon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Brenda Cepeda leads left, Dave Roitman, Ariela Maria and Ava Tanner-Banks in a dance with the group Bomba De Aqui who performed at the MLK Day celebration at Edwards Church Monday afternoon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dr. Ousmane Power-Greene, Tanisha Arena and Jacqueline Velez answer question as part of a panel called the Influence of Dr. King at the MLK Day celebration at Edwards Church Monday afternoon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leyla Ibrahim,6, and Amara Losier,3, paint during the children's portion of the MLK Day celebration at Edwards Church Monday afternoon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Brenda Cepeda dances with the group Bomba De Aqui who performed at the MLK Day celebration at Edwards Church in Northampton, Monday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tanisha Arena answers question as part of a panel called the Influence of Dr. King at the MLK Day celebration at Edwards Church Monday afternoon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Brenda Cepeda leads left, Dave Roitman, Ariela Maria and Ava Tanner-Banks and to the right, Albert Mosley in a dance with the group Bomba De Aqui who performed at the MLK Day celebration at Edwards Church Monday afternoon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/21/2019 11:00:00 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The convocation in Edwards Church celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day began and ended with song.

Opening the convocation, which rested at the heart of a 35th annual MLK Day celebration organized this year by The Resistance Center for Peace and Justice, was the group Bomba De Aqui, which plays traditional Puerto Rican music known as bomba. Brenda Cepeda, the group’s lead singer, asked the hundreds of people in attendance in the church to get up and dance, and the crowd enthusiastically rose and began to dance in place.

King, a seminal figure in the civil rights movement, was one of the most successful advocates and practitioners of nonviolent resistance in history. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. He had traveled there to support the city’s striking garbage workers.

The MLK Day celebration was originally organized through the the western Massachusetts branch of the American Friends Service Committee, of which The Resistance Center is a successor organization. Jeff Napolitano, executive director of The Resistance Center, credited the efforts of the “justice-filled women” Arky Markham, Frances Crowe and Ruth Hawkins in setting up that celebration, which he noted was done when the day was “barely a national holiday.”

“We are able to do this work because of those who came before us,” said Napolitano. “We stand on the shoulders of mortal giants.”

Napolitano credited that lesson to Jo Comerford, whom he succeeded as the head of the western Massachusetts chapter of the AFSC. Comerford, now a state senator, rose up from her seat in the pews, but did not speak.

Napolitano also commented on the politics of the day.

  “White supremacy is a scourge upon our  society, and it did not begin and it will not end with Donald Trump,” he said.

He also  pointed to the military budget, the mass deportation and scapegoating of illegal immigrants, and the vast numbers of Americans who live on the economic margins.

“Eighty percent of us live paycheck to paycheck,” Napolitano continued. “I thought that was just because I work in the nonprofit world but apparently I’m not alone.”

Napolitano also referenced King’s words speaking against the triumvirate of militarism, extreme materialism and racism.

“While our doors remain open, we will continue King’s resistance against those giant triplets, no matter who is president, and until we all get free,” said Napolitano.

Speakers

The convocation featured a panel of three speakers — Tanisha Arena, executive director of Arise for Social Justice, Jackie Velez, an organizer with Neighbor to Neighbor in Holyoke, and Ousmane Power-Greene, a professor at Clark University in Worcester.

Arena noted King’s words on the ability of people to fight for justice, regardless of their level of educational attainment.

“Anybody in this room can serve and do great things,” she said. “You just have to care about people.”

She also said there are similarities between what King spoke about in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and today’s protests in the National Football League.

“That’s Birmingham. That’s the United States right now,” she said.

She also said King was a figure who while he was alive, made some people uncomfortable.

“He was making people uncomfortable,” Arena said. “But that’s where you grow, in the discomfort.”

Velez shared how incarceration brought her into social justice work, saying it was both the best and worst thing that’s ever happened to her. She also said that everyone is needed in the struggle for justice.

“We need everybody that we possibly can in this fight,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re white, black, brown, yellow. I think everyone needs to help us with the fight.”

Power-Greene spoke about the importance of focusing on youth, a point that Arena agreed with.

“Trust these young kids,” said Arena.

Velez, meanwhile, talked about how she was lost as a young person

“I wish I had mentors,” she said. “Primarily, that is the most important thing that we can do.”

In response to a question about this year being the 400th anniversary of slaves from Africa being brought to Virginia, Power-Greene said such anniversaries can be capitalized on.

“All of these markers are opportunities,” he said.

The convocation finished with the Local Chorus and Focus Chorus, two children’s choruses led by Nerissa Nields, joining the main celebration from the children’s celebration. They entered with the classic civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” before performing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “People Get Ready,” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

“We gotta believe in this train,” said Nields, in introducing Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.”

The assembly then dispersed, with some headed for the next part of the celebration, free workshops put on around the city by community organizations.

Prior to the convocation, a walking tour of Florence’s African-American Heritage Trail was held.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettent.com.




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