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New London — About 200 people walked from City Hall to the state courthouse and then to Shiloh Baptist Church Monday morning, as many have done for the past 27 years, to honor the memory and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Dreams can never be cliche,'' Luther Wade III, youth pastor at Shiloh, preached to the interdenominational congregation gathered for a two-hour service.
Using the letters of the word "dream," Wade encouraged the community to "Dare to believe; Remember the past; focus on Education; pay Attention to politics and community; and Maximize your potential."
The inspirational service was also tinged with politics. Bishop Benjamin K. Watts, pastor of Shiloh, which hosted the event, and several others chastised the mayor for requiring the group to take out a parade permit and pay between $800 and $1,000 for the use of city services during the 10-minute march from City Hall to the church.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who on Friday realized no permit had been applied for, got the permit and paid the fee with his own money, saying he hoped that next year the group would raise its own funds. Monday's march and service were organized by the Southeastern Connecticut Ministerial Alliance.
Watts thanked the mayor for putting up the money but said the group has not paid in 27 years to march on the streets and does not intend to pay next year.
"This is not a parade,'' Watts thundered during a lull in the National Negro Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing.'' The event is not a celebration but a march of unity for the community to remember those who died for freedom, he said.
"It was an insult to ask us for a fee,'' Watts said. "This is not a St. Patrick's Day parade. This is not a Latin American pride parade. This is a commemoration. We remember our dead and our losses ... Who would celebrate death?"
Last May Finzio signed an executive order requiring organizers of events to obtain a permit and pay for city services in advance. On Monday he said he planned to include a line item in next year's proposed budget, which can be used at the City Council's discretion, "to pay for commemorative events like this.''
Speaking at the service, Finizio said when he discovered the church would be liable for the fees, "I did the only thing I could: I went to People's Bank .... and cashed out my savings account."
Bishop Watts said people should not forget the sacrifices of those who fought for freedom and equality, especially King, and should pass along the stories and lessons of the past to the youth of today.
Other speakers included the Rev. Wade Hyslop, a New London city councilor and pastor of Trinity Missionary Baptist Church; the Rev. Barbara White of Evans Memorial AME Zion Church in Norwich; and the Rev. Florence D. Clarke of Clarke Memorial AME Zion Church in New London.
Clarke said the debate about parades and marches awoke in her memories of the young black men in North Carolina who defied segregation laws and sat down at a Woolworth's lunch counter.
"The next day there were 20, the next 30, the next 300,'' she said. At her home in South Carolina, she said, she joined others who went to a Woolworth's and sat down."
"We marched,'' she said. "And we didn't have permits."
She said they were met with firehoses and put in cages for animals.
"I want you to know, this is real,'' she said. "It's not a figment of anyone's imagination. Marching made the difference."
Rabbi Carl Astor of Congregation Beth El in New London, who has participated in 25 of the past 27 marches, also spoke. He said perhaps everyone owes the City of New London a "thank you" for refocusing the day on the importance of the march.
"We're realizing how important this event is,'' he said.
He added that he dreams of a place where there is economic opportunity, health care, education, a warm place to sleep and food for everyone.
"My dream," he said. "Is that no children will be murdered in their classroom. ... That no one will have guns except those who need them."
But, he added, dreams only come true if people take action.
"I ask you: What are your dreams, and what will you do to make them come true?'' he said.