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LYNN — The Community Minority Cultural Center (CMCC) hosted its 36th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration virtually for its second year in a row on Monday afternoon.
Hosted by CMCC Executive Director Darrell Murkison, the event included an invocation from the Bishop Dr. Anthony Bennett of the Greater Bethlehem Temple Pentecostal Church; a performance from local artists ‘1 of a Kind’ who sang “You Make Me Feel Brand New”; a poem read by Vick Breedy; a presentation of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech; a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by Tanisha Guy Figueroa; and a benediction from the Minister Cheryl Moore of the Zion Baptist Church in Lynn.
In 1983, legislation made the third Monday in January a federal holiday in honor of MLK Jr., and the first nationwide observance was in 1986.
Mayor Jared Nicholson spoke during the virtual celebration, saying it’s important to honor King for the consequential work he did during his life and for the critical work that still needs to be done to fulfill King’s vision.
“King said in his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech that all men, yes even Black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Nicholson said. “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note and so far as citizens of color are concerned.”
With the start of a new administration in the city, Nicholson said they have been explicit about the goals of helping the city do their part to honor the sacred obligation of unalienable rights.
“We want to help make sure that every resident has access to safe affordable housing, starting with the implementation of the city’s recently approved housing-production plan which includes specifically addressing racial discrimination that still exists in the real estate market today,” Nicholson said. “In our work to emerge from the pandemic is the pursuit of a fairer, more just Lynn that combats ongoing racism and discrimination and includes all of us and what should be a much brighter future ahead.”
For the first time during this annual celebration, the event also featured discussions from local leaders and officials about MLK Jr. and his impacts on the world in place of a single keynote speaker.
Those who spoke of King and reflected on his work included Jessie Potter, the former president of the North Shore branch of the NAACP; Donna Murray, member of the Zion Baptist Church and executive director of the CMCC; Marven Hyppolite, who ran for a city-council seat last year and is a community organizer at Neighbor to Neighbor; MBTA Transit Police Chief Kenneth Green who was born and raised in Lynn: Alysha Hill-Bingham, founder of the Alysha Hill-Bingham Leadership Foundation; Lynn Fire Chief Stephen Archer; President of North Shore Juneteenth Nicole McClain; and the Rev. Annie Belmer, pastor at Galilee Christian Ministries and operations manager at Essex County Community Organization (ECCO).
Reflecting on his first memory of King when he was around 8 years old, Hyppolite said he remembered King being assassinated and thinking “wow, he really made that sacrifice for us.”
Now, with people talking more about social justice and equity, Hyppolite believes that sacrifice is starting to pay off.
“I think it’s a little bit better in the sense that there’s a little bit more understanding and pride in our folks too,” Hyppolite said. “Objectively I would say yes, things are better. Just me being able to run for office and have white folks vote for me, that doesn’t happen without Dr. King and everyone who supported him.”
As a Black police officer, Green discussed how King brought light to the country, and to the world, especially after marchers and demonstrators were brutalized by law enforcement.
“They sent canines at Black men, women and children during these peaceful demonstrations, so it really brought light to how the plight of Black people were in this country and the world,” Green said. “We see law-enforcement personnel brutalizing Black people to this day, shooting unarmed Black men, women and children throughout the country. That’s why we are in dire need of police reform and that’s what we’re trying to work through in the state right now.”
As the first Black chief that the Lynn Fire Department has had, Archer said King and other activists are a large reason why he is in the role he is in today.
“They opened up opportunities for people like myself, and the generation that went before me, to move into roles and places that we would not have had the ability to do prior to that,” Archer said. “The legacy of what those civil-rights advocates fight for, we are all the beneficiary of that.”
McClain started North Shore Juneteenth in 2017 to celebrate African-American culture closer to home and to educate people on Black history.
With that history comes King’s work and the Civil Rights Movement, which McClain said has had a positive effect on society and Black Americans.
“They all (Civil Rights advocates) laid the foundation for us and although discrimination is not a thing of the past, it is our job to do the work of securing that foundation, sharing that history, and expanding on it,” McClain said.
To view the discussions and performances from this virtual celebration, visit Youtube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBYgCXDLg4w.
Allysha Dunnigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.