LYNN — It was an acknowledgement of all that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached and accomplished in his short life of 39 years.
There were songs and there was poetry, all of which celebrated African-American culture while also dealing with the struggles people of color have encountered through their history in the United States.
But the underlying theme at Monday’s 33rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observation at the Knights of Columbus Hall was perhaps put most succinctly by Dr. Patrick Tutwiler, Lynn’s superintendent of schools and the keynote speaker.
“We are here this morning to make a renewed commitment to the work,” said Tutwiler. “Friends, the work is not done.”
The breakfast, sponsored by the Community Minority Cultural Center and emceed by Darrell Murkison, drew a cross-section of Lynn community leaders, from Mayor Thomas M. McGee to city councilors, Lynn School Committee members, and all three members of the city’s State House delegation.
“This is a man,” Tutwiler said of King, “who dedicated his life — in fact, gave his life — to a relentless pursuit of equality, to a vision. His theory of action: if you change the laws of man, you will change the habits of man, which will eventually change the hearts of man.”
Tutwiler characterized that endeavor as “a monumental task.
“We all know, as Dr. King did, this work cannot be done in one man’s lifetime. In fact, this work is never finished. This is work that must be continuously tended to, nurtured, talked about, closely monitored and reflected upon. And, equally important, this is everyone’s work.”
Tutwiler called education his life’s work, and that it is in his blood the same as a commitment and a passion to civil rights was central to King’s life.
‘But,” he said, “this is everyone’s work, and the work is not done. One need not dedicate his/her life to a vocation to engage in the work … be someone’s hero. At least once in your life, do something difficult or extraordinary for someone else, not because it will be recognized with praise, but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Tutwiler gave an example, saying that the morning after King was assassinated in April of 1968, his mother — an 18-year-old college student at the time — was sent home with the rest of her class from a school on the north side of Chicago. She and others in her group needed to get him to “the predominantly African-American west and south sides” of the city.
“They stepped out into the atmosphere in the community, which was of intense anger, profound sorrow, fear and raw disillusionment.”
His mother had those feelings too, he said, and was also worried about how she was going to get home, fearing normal modes of transportation would be either unsafe or unavailable.
The man who eventually offered to drive them home was white, he said.
“To this day, my mother feels deeply indebted to this individual,” Tutwiler said. “She never knew his name or if he was even a student and she never saw him again. All she knows is that he summoned the courage to pile six young black students into his car and drive into neighborhoods where thousands of African-Americans had taken to the streets in response to Dr. King’s death — some angry, some sad, most both. He did so without ever sharing his name or asking for anything in return. That day he was their hero.”
Several entertainers also provided their own interpretations of the African-American experience. Poet Michelle “La Poetica” Richardson, founder of a community group called Dencity, presented two of her works. In one, she said, “Each and every one of us has the ability to be a beacon. Our love makes us family.” In the other, she said, “We’re here to celebrate a man who had a dream. The least we can do is have a dream.”
Also performing were Brian “Choppa the Beatboxa” Fowler; singer Limitless, aka Dennis Hernandez; the a cappella trio Purpose; and singers Eva Davenport and M.O.E.
Former Lynn Classical athlete Arthur Akers, from the College Application Education Project, announced that this year’s scholarship winner was Ivelisse Cordero, who is a student at American International University in London.