The percussive sounds of the Baldwin High School Step Team reverberated through the auditorium at the 39th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration program on Jan. 16.
Following the Lenox Drum Ensemble and Step Team, the Meadow Special Chorus, the Baldwin Middle School Spoken Word Club and Soul Definition, the High School Step Team performed for a crowd of hundreds in Baldwin High School’s auditorium.
Since 1981, around the time when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was designated a national holiday, Concerned Parents of Baldwin, a group of parents whose children attend Baldwin schools, has co-sponsored a program with the school district to honor King’s legacy.
The first program was presented in Coes Neck Park Community Room, but has since been expanded to include students from elementary, middle and high schools in the district. From 1982 on, the programs have been held in the high school auditorium, followed by a reception, and each year, Concerned Parents of Baldwin members said, more parents have become involved.
Parents, administrators, Board of Education trustees and elected officials shared their thoughts about the inspirational leader who championed the nonviolent activism of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s.
“Even though Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated over 50 years ago, whatever time period you’re in, I think his words are the most inspirational and everlasting out of any leader I know,” State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin told the crowd. “His message of forgiveness, peace, love, unity lives on in every decade that we live in.”
Carole Hamilton, president of Concerned Parents, explained the event’s theme: “We are the children of the dream.”
“We believed that it was imperative to remind our young people today that they are the recipients of the hardships and struggles that were made by Dr. King and his supporters,” Hamilton said. “We encourage you to focus and make use of the many opportunities available to you today.”
The group recognized two students — one from the high school and one from the middle school — who they said exemplify the ideals of King through their service to the community. This year, Reyna Palmer, of Baldwin Middle School, and Moni Aderemi, of the high school, were presented with the Humanitarian Award.
The group granted its first Humanitarian Award in 1986, and in 1993, began awarding monetary scholarships to African-American high school students who achieved academic excellence and “demonstrated an awareness and sensitivity towards their community.” Later, it was expanded to include middle school students.
To fundraise for the scholarships and awards, Concerned Parents members said they have sold water at the high school’s orientation night, paired with the Baldwin Council Against Drug Abuse to host art auctions, connected with local vendors for jewelry sales and more. The group also hosts family and educational events, workshops and various day trips.
“Because of [King], I stand here as the first senior councilwoman in the history of the Town of Hempstead who is African-American,” said Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who presented citations to members of Concerned Parents.
“The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King not only arguably delivered the greatest speech spoken on American soil, but his words were a critical turning point in the history of civil rights in America,” Board of Education President Annie Doresca said. “King showed us that words matter — they can spark change and bring together a nation of people. He taught us that in order to fight injustice, we must always be vocal. Dr. King said that our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
“It took 15 years of fighting for Martin Luther King Day to be declared a national holiday,” she continued. “Let us recognize this time of celebration as a period to renew one’s sense of hope in our nation’s future. Dr. King’s ultimate dream was to have people from all backgrounds come together and celebrate our differences as well as our commonalities. Let us honor the spirit of Dr. King not only on this holiday, but every day. Let us love one another.”
King’s teachings remain relevant today, BHS Principal Dr. Neil Testa said, including that people must lead with character and through education. The high school is participating in the No Place for Hate initiative, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, and planning schoolwide activities to promote inclusivity and community building that fosters social justice.
“Even though the calendar now reads 2020,” Testa said, “we still face many of the same challenges of years gone by, meaning that Dr. King’s legacy of leadership is more important than ever.”
In addition to the school district’s annual program, the Second Baptist Church of Baldwin hosted its annual Ecumenical Service on Jan. 19, attended by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, of Baldwin, and other elected officials.
“I wonder, how different would the world look like had he been with us for the past 52 years?” Curran said of King. The pews in the central nave of the church were filled with hundreds of people, some of whom had traveled from outside Nassau County. “I know that through his hard work and his tenacity, he would’ve been unstoppable, and it grieves me to think that we haven’t had the benefit of him for 52 years.”
The event was attended by members of many local groups and organizations, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee of Nassau County, the Nassau County Office of Minority Affairs, Baldwin High School, the Academy Charter School, Remnant Ministries, Kingdom Family Ministry, Center of Hope Deliverance Church, the Nassau County Human Rights Commission, the Congregation Shaaray Shalom, the Islamic Center of Long Island, Union Baptist Church, the Nehemiah Movement, Mt. Horeb Baptist Church, the Refuge Church of Christ, the Evangel Revival Center of Long Beach, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, the First Baptist Church of Glen Cove and the Eastern Baptist Association of New York.
“This event was very inspiring,” said Queens resident Solomon West, “and it brought many different faiths and many different types of people together. It’s an inspiration for life in the 21st century.”
The Rev. Gilbert Pickett, of the Mt. Horeb Baptist Church of Corona and the Eastern Baptist Association of New York, the event’s keynote speaker, spoke about how King spoke truth to power, fought for fair wages for sanitation workers and opposed the Vietnam War.
“He felt that books — amen — and prayer were more important than bombs and bullets in terms of the money that the government was taking away from the poor just to fight this war,” Pickett said in a powerful sermon that incorporated live music. He thanked God and King “for showing us that you might be able to kill a visionary, but you can’t kill the vision. You might be able to kill the dreamer, but you can’t kill the dream. You might be able to kill the prophet, but you can’t kill the prophecy. You might be able to kill the savior, but you can’t kill salvation.”