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New London - On the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., people in New London on Monday paused to remember the man and his dream.
From the steps of City Hall to the pulpit at Shiloh Baptist Church, more than 200 people marched Monday morning to honor King and his legacy.
"It's been 25 years we've been coming together,'' said the Rev. Benjamin K. Watts, pastor of Shiloh. "Today is a time of great distress in our country. Young people are feeling disillusioned. The nation seems to be self-destructive."
With politicians mingling in the crowd and a police escort, Watts recalled a time when police tried to stop such marches and politicians were less than sympathetic.
Watts told those who marched there is more to do to make King's dream of a nation where people are judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin become a reality.
On the way to Shiloh, the group paused on Huntington Street, where 25-year-old Matthew Chew was fatally stabbed in October, allegedly by six teenaged residents of the city who are charged with his murder.
"We have young people who are hurting and feel helpless, in their minds," Watts said. "We bow our heads for a moment for Matthew Chew. And to think about what we can do to make this city a better place."
Watts also made a plea for justice for Anthony Hamilin, a 40-year-old Groton resident whose body was dumped in a field in Ledyard in 2006. His murder remains unsolved.
"His blood cries out,'' Watts said.
"As a community we have to collectively say 'never again,''' he said. "There may be no agreement on what should be done, but all of us know we cannot tolerate a city of fear and violence."
A 90-minute service at Shiloh included prayers and songs. Rabbi Carl Astor of Congregation Beth El taught participants to sing "We Shall Overcome" in Hebrew.
"He always manages to come through,'' Watts said after high-fiving Astor, who has participated in all 25 Martin Luther King Day services at Shiloh.
Citing the arrest of the six young men of color in the Chew murder case, and the hiring in the city of seven new firefighters and 20 new teachers, all of whom of are white, speaker after speaker called upon the community to change things.
"Our children need people they can look up to who look like them,'' said the Rev. Wade Hyslop, who is also a city councilor. "I have nothing against Caucasians. It's about equality."
If given the chance, people of color will prove themselves worthy, he said.
He said the community not only failed Chew, who was murdered walking home from his job, but it has also failed the six accused teenagers.
Superintendent of Schools Nicholas Fischer spoke, urging residents to pay attention to the young people in the city.
"Everyone has an obligation to make things happen,'' Fischer said. He told the group that one of the young men arrested in the Chew murder was a math genius who wanted to be an architect and now will probably be in jail for the rest of his life.
"We all have to pay attention,'' he said, adding that no one has to be an expert to offer help. He urged the adults in the room to stop and talk to the youngsters around them. Ask how they're doing. If they are angry, ask why; if they are about to hurt someone, help them find a nonviolent alternative, he said.
Others who spoke included U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney, D-2nd District, who brought a book in which people could write get-well wishes to Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot last week in Tucson, and condolences to those who died in the incident.
Also speaking were state Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, and the Rev. Marcus Luter Jr., pastor of Beulah Land Church of God in Christ.