Carrying King’s Legacy Forward

Share

Award winners and presenters at MLK Breakfast 2018 – Fahren Bartley, Alycia Wilson, Airlee Johnson, Leslie Raimond, Aniya Jefferson, Mae Etta Moore, Kurt Landgraf, Kim Kratoville

“Get out of your comfort zone!”

Because that’s when change begins.  This was the theme for several of the speakers during the Martin Luther King breakfast at the Rock Hall Firehouse on Monday, January 15.  The breakfast is organized by the Chester Valley Ministers’ Association with the help of the Kent County Arts Council.

The meeting room was soon packed as guests arrived for the 7:00 am breakfast and celebration.  The crowd of over 250 people was entertained as they entered by the Kent County High School Jazz Band. Led by Keith Wharton, the band played two up-tempo blues and an arrangement of the bossa nova standard, “Corcovado”.

KCHS Jazz Band at MLK Breakfast 2018

Washington College President Kurt Landgraf at MLK Breakfast in 2018

Washington College President Kurt Landgraf, serving as Master of Ceremonies, set the tone for the proceedings by noting that he grew up in an orphanage and it was there that he learned the importance of helping other people –  just as King taught.

“Education is important,” Landgraf said, “but providing basic needs is more important. A nation that doesn’t care for the disadvantaged will inevitably fail.” He urged attendees to get involved and unite to put their principles into action. To demonstrate Washington College’s commitment to racial equality, he said that at the Feb. 23 Convocation, the college will award an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Frederick Douglass, the Civil War-era abolitionist who grew up on the Eastern Shore. Douglas’s biographer from Yale will speak at the Convocation and a direct descendant of Douglass will be present to accept the degree.  This will be the first doctorate ever awarded to Douglas, either posthumously or during his lifetime.  And the first honorary degree since Howard University awarded one to Douglas in 1872.  The event is open to the public and Landgraf invited everyone to attend.

The invocation was given by Cantor Gary Schiff who prayed for peace in our times.  He noted that Jewish prayers traditionally end with a call for peace.  Following the invocation, Kent County commissioner William Pickrum read the official proclamation, declaring the January 15 Martin Luther King Day an official holiday.

The Chamber Singers of the Chester River Chorale were next with three beautiful songs.  The singers, led by assistant director Michelle Sensenig, were all dressed in black and wore long colorful scarves.  Their first song was a jazzy arrangement of “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” followed by the women’s voices a capella on “Down to the River to Pray.” For their final selection, everyone stood to join in “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the black national anthem.

Chester River Chorale at MLK Breakfast 2018

Chester River Chorale at MLK Breakfast 2018

Julie Lawrence with Chester River Chorale at MLK Breakfast 2018

Rosemary Granillo, Vice President of the CVMA, announced grants awarded to community organizations. Recipients were the Vincent Hynson Scholarship Fund at Washington College,  the Good Neighbor Fund, the Samaritan Group and the Kent County Food Pantry. The grants are funded by the proceeds from the breakfast and the “Lift Up Our Voices In Song” concert Saturday night.

Three students from Kent County Middle School received Vincent Hynson Youth Awards, recognizing contributions to the quality of life in the community and participation in school and community events. This year’s recipients were Taion Johnson (not present), sixth grade; Alycia Wilson, seventh grade; and Fahren Bartley, eighth grade.

Leslie Raimond presented certificates to recipients of the Vincent Hynson Memorial Youth Awards Alycia Wilson (7th grade) and Fahren Bartley (8th grade) at MLK Breakfast 2018

Airlee Ringgold Johnson and Kent County High School senior Aniya Jefferson were the recipients of the Dr. Martin Luther King  Jr. Humanitarian Awards, presented by Rev. Mae Etta Moore. The award recognizes significant contributions to the quality of life in Kent County. Jefferson, receiving the award, thanked God and her parents. She quoted King saying. “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve others.”

Rev Mae Etta Moore presented the Humanitarian Award to KCHS senior Aniya Jefferson 

Johnson, who left Kent County after graduation from then-segregated Henry Highland Garnett High School, said she originally planned never to return. Living elsewhere, she became active in her communities and learned about the “big world” that was not segregated. She advised the audience to get out of their comfort zone and seek out members of other races, recognizing that things have changed. Chestertown is not just for one race or group — it is getting wide recognition for its cultural life. “We can’t afford to be separate any more,” she said. She mentioned her involvement in the Legacy Day committee and the Social Action Committee as examples of how change is coming to the community. “It’s a brand new day; we need to move forward,” she said in conclusion.

Airlee Johnson and Rev.Mae Etta Moore at MLK Breakfast 2018

The keynote speaker was Sam Abed, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. Abed, whose grandparents emigrated over 100 years ago to the U.S. from Palestine.  Working with young people who have fallen into conflict with the law, he said, he inevitably observed a disproportionate number of African Americans.

Abed warned the audience that parts of his story might make many of them uncomfortable. He then described the anti-Arab prejudice he encountered as a young boy in Virginia. He was called “sand-n****r” and “towel-head” at school.  Though it hurt, he tried to ignore the taunts, and he said he still believed in America and the values of democracy and equality that it stood for.  At the time, he felt the insults were isolated incidents, that most people did not feel or act that way, that America was not a racist country.

But the final blow came when, in the fall of 2001, he graduated from law school, passed the bar, and applied for jobs. A year afterward, every member of his class had found a job except him — he didn’t even have one interview out of more than 1,000 applications. And he had been a good student; graduating in the top quarter of his law school class.  Finally one of his professors told him, “You have to change your name.” Sending out the same application with a new name, he immediately got three interviews. The change consisted of dropping two letters from his birth name: Osama.  As soon as he became “Sam” Abed instead of “Osama” Abed, he got a job! He was glad to get the job but disappointed that people hadn’t been able to look past the name to the individual.

He told his staff to challenge them to take responsibility for their actions and not blame others  — the judges, police, schools or parents of the young people that came into the system. “Fix what we can fix, hope others will do the same,” he told his staff, reminding them of what King’s work means — “keep going and fighting” to make a difference in the world.

The keynote speaker, Secretary Sam Abed, Esq., Maryland Department of Juvenile Services

The Sensational Stars, a favorite at the MLK breakfasts, brought old-time gospel harmonies to “Heaven is a Beautiful Place” and “It’s Going to be All Right” before concluding with a soulful version of Sam Cooke’s powerful anthem, “A Change is Gonna Come.”

Sensational Stars at MLK Breakfast 2018

The morning ended just a little before 10:00 am with a benediction by Rev. Sheila Lomax.  Following the benediction, the entire audience rose and held hands to sing “We Shall Overcome.”

Photo Gallery below.  Photography by Jane Jewell.

Rev. Jim Van de Wal with Sam Abed at MLK Breakfast 2018

 

MLK Breakfast 2018

Marianne Leery, George Shivers at MLK Breakfast 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

###

 

 

Write a Letter to the Editor on this Article

We encourage readers to offer their point of view on this article by submitting the following form. Editing is sometimes necessary and is done at the discretion of the editorial staff.

*