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New London - In a ceremony featuring song, spoken-word performance and impassioned speeches from some of the region's elected officials, state Rep. Ernest Hewett's effort to get a portion of Colman Street dedicated in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to an emotional conclusion Sunday.
In an auditorium at the Science and Technology Magnet High School, the region's representatives took Sunday's ceremony as an opportunity to expound on the virtues of King's mission for equality - and to reiterate that there is still work to be done in that arena.
After a screening of King's famous "I have a dream" speech, renditions of the national anthem and "Lift Every Voice and Sing," known as the "Negro National Anthem," and an invocation from Pastor Nathaniel Scott of the Pentecostal Rescue Mission, state Sen. Andrea Stillman read a proclamation from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in recognition of the new name for the one-way stretch of Colman Street between Jefferson Avenue and Bank Street.
The audience was reassured, though, that this was simply an "honorary" renaming that would not require any mailing address changes.
Hewett's renaming bill, passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor, had been in the works since last year. The original plan was to rename the entire street, but the two-way commercial section is already dedicated to a war veteran.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., thanked Hewett, D-New London, for his leadership, vision and courage in making the dedication possible while also addressing any lingering skepticism over a renaming that is not, in practice, an actual renaming.
"The 'so what' is to tell the world, to tell Connecticut, to tell the nation, that the dream still lives," he said.
Hewett recalled the day schools were officially desegregated when he was growing up in North Carolina, when he and his cousin and brother were to be the first to attend the local white-only school. He was faced with the choice, he said, of climbing onto a bus filled with contemptuous white students, or facing his stubbornly passionate mother, who stood on their porch.
"What do you think I did?" he asked the audience, eliciting raucous applause.
Other officials also addressed the crowd, including state Sen. Andrew Maynard, state Rep. Elissa Wright, and Jackie Owens of the Norwich branch of the NAACP. And participants in the local nonprofit creative group Writer's Block InK performed a collaborative piece that included song and poetry, giving voice to their own personal struggles for equality and respect.
New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio also spoke, saying the effort took "many years to achieve," and that it serves as an important reminder in a city where issues of racism and equality persist today - particularly in issues of education and poverty - as in so many other places around the country.
Whenever he drives by the street now, he said, it will be a reminder to him: "What do we still have to do?"