Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 94 years old this week. Although the civil rights leader was struck down in 1968, he left behind a vision of peace and racial justice and a call for every person to serve humanity.
Newton held its annual Martin Luther King Day ceremony at Newton North High School Monday —the warmth of the music and emotional speeches drawing sharp contrast with the frigid January morning outside—reflecting on what Dr. King’s dream meant, how America has fallen short of that vision and how we can pick up the baton and finish what he started.
“Like everyone else joining us today, I’ve been deeply inspired by Dr. King,” Bentley University President E. Brent Chrite, Monday’s keynote speaker, said. “But I’m not just inspired by his elegance, or by the fact that he challenged conventional order or that he spoke truth to power, or by his relentless tenacity or that he willingly gave his life for a cause in which he believed. Though any of these attributes would be worthy of history’s enduring admiration.”
What inspired Chrite most about Dr. King, Chrite said, is that “he was imperfect. Flawed.”
King’s struggles with his own insecurities should give us all hope, Chrite continued, as we deal with our own insecurities while pushing onward with King’s call for justice.
Chrite acknowledged his difficulty in finding optimism in a country that has strayed so far from Dr. King’s dream in recent years—with right wing extremism, division and racially-motivated violence being normalized across the nation—but said he believes we can go back and pick that dream back up and make it a reality.
“There’s a West African Akan word, ‘Sankofa,’ meaning, at least, colloquially, ‘to go back and fetch it. To go back for what’s been left behind,'” Chrite said. “At this time, then, as we come together to honor Dr. King and his legacy, let our celebration of his be our Sankofa. An intentional act of re-remembering.”
The ceremony was packed full of guest speakers—including Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and Schools Superintendent Anna Nolin—and a student roundtable discussion about race.
Singer/songwriter and Newton teacher Katani Sumner began the event by leading the audience in a sing-along to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and came back to close the event with a powerful rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.”
Below are more photos and videos from the ceremony.