Northampton readies for MLK Day celebrations

  • A group of people gather for a rally at Northampton City Hall on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2016. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/18/2019 7:00:05 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Resistance Center for Peace and Justice will host its 35th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration Monday, an event that promises to be full of celebration, education and activism.

“King’s day is really a day that aligns with all of our values,” said TRC Executive Director Jeff Napolitano.

Before leading The Resistance Center, Napolitano headed up the American Friends Service Committee branch in western Massachusetts, which originally organized the city’s MLK Day celebrations. This celebration will be Napolitano’s 10th in his current role; Sabine Merz, who serves on the center’s board of directors, did much of the organizing for the workshops.

“This MLK Day has come together more naturally and organically than any that I’ve done,” said Napolitano. “We’re sort of really hitting a rhythm.”

On April 4, 1968 King was assassinated in Memphis, a city he’d traveled to in order to support its striking garbage workers.

Napolitano noted that, in addition to battling racism, King also spoke pubicly about consumerism, capitalism, militarism and peace. 

The celebration will begin at 10 a.m. in Florence at the Sojourner Truth statue, after which participants will walk Florence’s African-American Heritage Trail. There will be coffee and hot cocoa midway at the David Ruggles Center for History and Education.

The next big event will take place at 1 p.m. at Northampton’s Edwards Church, which will feature a panel of speakers, including 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. Introductury music will be provided by Bomba De Aqui, which plays traditional songs from Puerto Rico.

Newly-inaugurated State Sen. Jo Comerford, who represents the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District, will also speak. Napolitano succeeded Comerford as the head of the American Friends Service Committee branch in western Massachusetts.

“These are basically her people,” he said.

The children’s celebration will be held from 1 to 2 p.m. and will take place in Addis Hall, which is located in the downstairs section of the church. It will feature the Focus Chorus and Local Chorus, both led by Nerissa Nields, and the two celebrations will merge in song at the convocation’s conclusion.

Finally, there will be a series workshops held around the city from 2:30 to 5 p.m., including “The Myth of Sanctuary Cities” with The Resistance Center; “What would MLK today say about the Middle East?” with the Middle East Peace and Justice Coalition of Western Mass; “DIY #Podcasts: A ‘How To’ for the Beginning Podcaster” with Kelsey Hall and Joshua Pearson; “Justice Choir: A National Movement” with Pioneer Valley Justice Choir; and “MLK, Anticapitalism and Race” with the Democratic Socialists of America.

“Those are all different community organizations that are doing their thing, basically,” said Napolitano.

All workshops will be free and open to the public; no advance registration is required.

More information about the day’s events can be found at

Bera Dunau can be reached at

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115 Conz Street
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