Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is alive and well in Southold.
On Sunday, the was filled as many gathered to remember the man whose vision changed the world. After the event, those in attendance, including an array of religious leaders, reflected on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s extraordinary life – and the work they believe must still be done to see his mission realized.
Organized by the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force, Sunday’s event began with an invocation by Reverend Peter Kelley of the First Presbyterian Church of Southold. Highlights of the service included musical selections sung by a choir from the First Baptist Church of Bridgehampton, who moved the audience with their rendition of the anthem “Lift Every Voice.”
Student Nyzia Strickland fromread Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, followed by more vocal selections and reflections by Greenport Mayor David Nyce and Southold Town Councilman Al Krupski.
A keynote address was given by Reverend Sam Fulford, associate minister at the First Baptist Church of Bridgehampton. His words were uplifting, said Merle Levine. “He gave a rousing speech.”
The program, said Reverend Kelly, was “a great show of unity for the community.”
But, he added, there are challenges ahead.
“The dream of Martin Luther King Jr. has not been realized. And although there have been gains, we need to remember, move forward, and come together whenever we can," he said.
To that end, ABTF secretary Merle Levine said the committee is striving to fight against racism and discrimination on a local level. The Frank DePre Diversity program provides library materials to local schools, she said. Funds collected are also utilized to send teachers and police officers to workshops such as Erase Racism.
“That’s the most productive thing we can do,” she said.
In the past, members of thehave attended the training, as well as members of the .
Successes of the ABTF, said Levine, include work to ensure “people are not red-lined in their search for housing,” and discriminated against in that regard.
Despite accomplishments, Levine agrees the battle is not yet won.
“There is a tremendous amount of work to be done in regard to immigrants,” she said.
Integrating programs in schools and training teachers on methods to eradicate racism are important, said Levine. Most recently, the town’s ABTF has been working with the local school system to deal with the issue of bullying.
In addition, ABTF member Carol Peabody, who teaches at Stony Brook, is working in local schools, distributing a questionnaire to gather students’ views on such issues, said Levine.
The Southold ABTF’s annual Martin Luther King event is important – and sends a message, she said.
“It’s vital to remind people of Martin Luther King. We have no leaders like him today. It’s inspirational – the things he had to say, and the life he lived. People need to be reminded that there are such people," she said.
Anti-Bias Task Force co-chair Eleanor Lingo said the specter of racism is still insidious in today’s society.
“With what’s happening in the world today, we need to get ourselves together, to respect one another. We need to get along," she said.
The backlash against President Barack Obama is one example, she said.
”We’re still trying to move on, but it looks like it’s one step forward and two backward. It’s just terrible," she said.
That’s why, said Reverend Fulford, events such as Sunday’s gathering to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. are critical.
“We’re hoping that these events prevent stagnation of the dream – that they promote it, and add life to the things we need to do.” Fulford said well-attended events such as Sunday’s gathering are encouraging. “It’s a sign of hope – a sign of life.”