The keynote speaker at the Hempstead Village Annual Martin Luther King Day of Reflection is normally a clergyperson or teacher. But this year it was Lennitt Bligen, Jr., 38, a Hempstead native and father of three with a career in finance.
Bligen, who now lives in Boston, was invited by the United Peoples Organization, which organizes the yearly commemoration. The 2022 event was hosted by Rev. Lynwood Deans and the Bethlehem of Judea Church. Rev. Wendy Brown-Rashad of Faith Baptist Church led the attendees through songs of praise, the National Anthem, and the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
The facilitator, Rev. Joseph Jerome Howell Jr., invited Hempstead young people, dignitaries, and elected officials to the podium for readings and reflections. New York State’s MLK Day 2022 theme was “Opportunity and Promise.” However, King’s own focus on human rights – especially voting rights, given the current clash in Congress over approving voting rights bills – took center stage.
Mayor Waylyn Hobbs, Jr., said, “Just like God allowed the storm to pass by, we want to serve notice to anyone that tries to fight against our rights, that we still serve the God of our weary days, the God of our silent tears. So we welcome you to this Martin Luther King celebration.”
“Dr. King’s life and legacy call us to remember the power of our collective voice,” said Senator Kevin Thomas, “Voting is an essential part of our democracy’s infrastructure and we cannot afford to have our voices stripped away.”
When Bligen took the microphone, his words centered on King’s call to individual greatness.
“I’m Hempstead born and raised,” he said. “I’m from the Heights. I was blessed to have attended Jackson Main Elementary School … My parents, Lennitt and Jean Bligen, were very active participants in this community and they instilled qualities of service and leadership in me and my sister Lenique at an early age. We were raised in Jackson Memorial AME Zion Church, and I stress the word raised, not attended, because our church family truly is the village that shapes our lives.”
Recollecting King’s exhortations to love and service, Bligen called Hempstead “a community of great students with great teachers. … great parents and great leaders … in Hempstead, we know everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”
Bligen himself, in addition to his position as Director of Mergers and Acquisition at Thermo Fisher Scientific, leads Omega Psy Phi Fraternity activities in the New England area. He is President Emeritus for the Wharton Club of Boston and a member of Boston’s Bethel AME Church.
Bligen encouraged his listeners to keep greatness as a mindset, not in terms of dominance over others, but in the manner King had exemplified, viewing service as the action of love.
“When we combine our greatness mindset with our service actions,” said Bligen, “we move that much closer to realizing the kingdom here on earth.”