New London and Norwich honor King's legacy

From left, Mayor Michael Passero, Anthony Nolan, president of the city council, Jerry Mahan,  Michael Tranchida, city councilor, Wilbur Glenn and Rev. Marcus Luter, of Beulah Land Church of God in Christ, walk down Cottage Street during the annual Martin Luther King March from New London City Hall to Shiloh Baptist Church for a service, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
From left, Mayor Michael Passero, Anthony Nolan, president of the city council, Jerry Mahan, Michael Tranchida, city councilor, Wilbur Glenn and Rev. Marcus Luter, of Beulah Land Church of God in Christ, walk down Cottage Street during the annual Martin Luther King March from New London City Hall to Shiloh Baptist Church for a service, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Norwich and New London residents honored Martin Luther King Jr. at marches Monday, with speakers celebrating the diversity of their communities and highlighting King's legacy of justice.

More than 100 people sang “We Shall Overcome” and marched Monday morning in the cold, with snowflakes starting to fall, through the streets of downtown New London, beginning at City Hall on State Street, where police blocked off traffic. The Southeastern Connecticut Ministerial Alliance sponsored the event.

Along their route, the marchers stopped in front of the Superior Court on Huntington Street. The Rev. Aracelis Haye, associate pastor of Church of the City in New London, encouraged attendees that when they think of King's message to remember the people who may be living in fear, including Haitians and Salvadorans and "Dreamers."

The participants gathered at the end of the march at the Shiloh Baptist Church on Garvin Street for a service in which they sang and listened to speeches from spiritual leaders and politicians representing southeastern Connecticut.

The Rev. Marcus Luter, pastor of Beulah Land Church of God in Christ in New London and president of the Southeastern Connecticut Ministerial Alliance, said the march has celebrated King's legacy each year for more than 30 years, "but we recognize this year, seemingly more than ever, the importance that we keep continuing to march."

New London Mayor Michael Passero called the irony this year "overwhelming."

"As we celebrate our national holiday honoring a man who devoted his life and ministry to the principles of nonviolence, racial equality and economic justice, our national government is saber-rattling, race-baiting and dismantling the social safety net," Passero said.

"But Dr. King prepared us for times of challenge like these, telling us that we must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope. Dr. King’s message was always one of perseverance. He taught us that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. I believe the same can be said of a community also, and I have no doubt where my city stands in this time of challenge and controversy. I am more proud than ever of my city because we are a city of infinite hope."

Passero said King's message is more instructive now than ever before, and the city will continue to welcome the refugee and the immigrant; care for those who are hungry, poor, homeless, drug- or alcohol-dependent, sick and mentally ill; and embrace diversity.

Referring to President Donald Trump's vulgar words last week, New London City Council President and police officer Anthony Nolan said it crushed him when kids came to him upset that other kids were repeating the president's words and thought the words were acceptable to say because the president had said them.

Nolan pointed out that people of different colors were gathering together during the service and said: "This is how we make America great."

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, will introduce next week a resolution of censure for Trump’s remarks. Courtney said he plans to sign the resolution, adding that he knows southeastern Connecticut wants to be “on that side of history."

In his speech, state Rep. C.L. Stallworth, D-Bridgeport, pastor of that city's East End Baptist Tabernacle Church, spoke about the importance of not being silent in the face of injustice.

“We have to be able to stand up and to speak up for the poor and the marginalized,” he said, urging people to speak up when hearing words of injustice.

To not do so, he said, is to endorse those comments. 

State Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London, said it's important to "fight fire with fire, but also fight fire with love."

Norwich holds its own march

In Norwich, about 60 people braved frigid temperatures, cold wind and a few snowflakes to gather outside City Hall Monday afternoon for the start of the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration. Monday's march and speaking program was a continuation of the theme: "Different American Realties, Shared American Dreams."

Noting that the crowd was larger than usual, the Rev. Gregory Perry, dubbed the "worship leader" of Monday's celebration, said the group did not come together to stand against anything, but to stand for a celebration of the diversity of the greater Norwich community.

"This is weather that will test your commitment," Norwich NAACP branch President Dianne Daniels said at the start of the march.

Marchers were met by a dozen more participants gathered for the ceremony at the Evans Memorial AME Zion Church following the march through downtown streets. Perry pointed out that marchers ranging in age from young students to senior citizens were able to march in peace and celebration, escorted by Norwich police who stopped traffic to clear the way for the march.

Not many years ago, he said peaceful marches would have been met with angry bystanders and police dogs nipping at their legs.

"Justice and peace," Daniels said at the church program. "Not long words, but powerful words."

Norwich Free Academy junior Luckensley Paul presented Martin Luther King Day T-shirts to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Courtney. The front of the shirts read: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Paul said he was grateful for King's accomplishments that ensured him the chance to realize his own dream. To him, King's speeches are not just words on a page, but a guide to him to stay focused on his own future.

"I'll never stop moving toward my goal of becoming an engineer," Paul said. "... Today, I have an education guaranteeing me a spot in the world."

The keynote speaker, the Rev. John Gentry, pastor of host AME Zion Church, said the NAACP doesn't have periods or spaces after each letter because the group's goal is to bring people together. Gentry said while black lives matter, he prefers to proclaim that "all lives do matter," and urged black people to stop killing other black people.

And noting that the CP in NAACP stands for "colored people," Gentry said white people belong to the group as well.

"You have a different color than I have, so it's about you too," he said.

Quoting scriptures and popular song lyrics as well as King's speeches and Emma Lazarus' poem on the Statue of Liberty, Gentry challenged today's youth to make sure American society does not go backward to the time when authorities held the oppressive position that blacks were always wrong, and white people always right.

"Make America greater," he said, "not great again."

k.drelich@theday.com

c.bessette@theday.com

Rev. Barbara White sings with Rev. John Gentry in the background during the Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration service at Evans Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church after the annual Martin Luther King March from Norwich City Hall, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Rev. Barbara White sings with Rev. John Gentry in the background during the Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration service at Evans Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church after the annual Martin Luther King March from Norwich City Hall, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Rev. John Gentry, second from left, reacts to something said by Dianne Daniels, right, president of the Norwich NAACP, during the Martin Luther Jr. Birthday Celebration service at Evans Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church after the annual Martin Luther King March from Norwich City Hall, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Rev. John Gentry, second from left, reacts to something said by Dianne Daniels, right, president of the Norwich NAACP, during the Martin Luther Jr. Birthday Celebration service at Evans Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church after the annual Martin Luther King March from Norwich City Hall, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Tawanda Miller, right, of New London, and other members of the congregation sing during the service at Shiloh Baptist Church after the annual Martin Luther King March from New London City Hall, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Tawanda Miller, right, of New London, and other members of the congregation sing during the service at Shiloh Baptist Church after the annual Martin Luther King March from New London City Hall, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Michelle Cagle, second from right, and her husband, Rev. Michael Cagle, right, of Walls Clarke Temple, and other members of the congregation react to the singing of the choir during the service at Shiloh Baptist Church after the annual Martin Luther King March from New London City Hall, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Michelle Cagle, second from right, and her husband, Rev. Michael Cagle, right, of Walls Clarke Temple, and other members of the congregation react to the singing of the choir during the service at Shiloh Baptist Church after the annual Martin Luther King March from New London City Hall, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
People participating in the annual Martin Luther King March leave Norwich City Hall to march to Evans Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church for a service, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
People participating in the annual Martin Luther King March leave Norwich City Hall to march to Evans Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church for a service, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

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