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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Martin Luther King Jr. Revered and Remembered

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Monday, January 16, 2006

Al-Hajj Dawud Abdul Salaam was the featured speaker during a Jan. 16 Martin Luther King Day celebration in North Adams.
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North Adams –A virtual kaleidoscope of humanity filled First Baptist Church pews during a Jan. 16 “Weathering The Storms Together” Martin Luther King Day celebration.

The exceptionally diverse group represented numerous religions and racial and cultural backgrounds. The culturally varied gathering was united for solid purpose: to honor King, remember his civil rights activism, and acknowledge his continued societal impact nearly 38 years after he was slain in Memphis.


Martin Luther King Planning Committee Chairman Alex Daugherty
"He Did Not Die In Vain"

Teen-aged high school students spoke with passion about King, although they were born more than two decades after King was killed.

“I think it’s really good how he fought for rights for everybody,” said 14-year-old Gesiera Ebiware, a Hoosac Valley High School student.

“He did not die in vain,” said 17-year-old Prebi Ebiware, who is enrolled at Drury High School.

Stephanie Bosley, 17, served as the voice of her father, state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley D-North Adams, who was unable to attend the celebration because of illness. Prior to speaking during the event’s formal ceremony, Stephanie Bosley spoke about King.

“I think that with the celebration, people remember him and the work he did,” she said. “I think he’s remembered as a pioneer and the work that he did is why we can all go to the same school and walk down the street together. It wasn’t that long ago that blacks were discriminated against. I don’t know if every high school student thinks about it, but I do.”

"He Lived His Life To Give"

The words of Martin Luther King Jr. have lost none of their power or relevance since his death, said featured speaker Al-Hajj Dawud Abdul Salaam.

A retired prison chaplain who was among the first Muslim chaplains hired by the California Department of Corrections, Salaam has served as an Iman and an Islamic studies teacher. He served as a resident Iman [similar to a minister] for Masjid [mosque] As-Sabur in Sacramento, Calif., and for the Alabama-based Birmingham Masjid of Al-Islam. He founded the Clara Muhammad School, which was a prototype for elementary schools directed by Iman W. Deen Mohammed. He is currently a member of the California Council of Imans and a retired member of the Association of Correctional Chaplains in Service.

Salaam reflected on King’s life and delivered a series of quotes attributed to King.

King lived as a “servant of God,” Salaam said.

“He not only gave, he sacrificed,” Salaam said. “He lived his life to give, he gave his life and his spirit lives.”

“All of us have benefited from his actions,” Salaam said. “Let us listen to him remind us of who we are and what we should be doing.”

Included among the quotes Salaam shared was King's reflection on the impact of the civil rights movement. Salaam credited King with saying “The real victory was what this period did for the psyche of the black man.”

King said that human progress is not “automatic” or “inevitable,” according to Salaam, who told those assembled that King said “Every step toward the goal of justice requires struggling and sacrifice.”

King said that a nation, which, year to year, spends more money on war than on social justice “is approaching a spiritual death.”

Peacemaker Award honoree Stephen Green


King followed the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad because he removed the evil he could see, spoke against evil, and detested injustice and oppression in his heart, Salaam said.

The world's population faces storms launched by nature, such as Hurricane Katrina, and storms that are man-made, such as political storms, Salaam said.

“How do we weather these storms?” he said. “You put it succinctly in your theme; we must do it together. One thing we know, no matter how ferocious the storm, it is temporary. Only God is permanent.”

Salaam received a standing ovation.

Additional speakers included state Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr., and Brenda Thomas. Thomas delivered a dramatic reading about Rosa Parks and announced a Martin Luther King book award. The 2006 award was presented to the Cheshire Public Library.

Peacemaker Award

A Peacemaker Award was presented to Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Vice-president of Academics Stephen Green. A former MCLA sociology professor, Green and his wife Sue Walker live at 37 Holbrook St. in the city. Members of the Martin Luther King Committee select Peacemaker Award recipients.

City Mayor John Barrett III praised Green as a person who does much good without “making a lot of noise.”

“He exemplifies all that is good about this city,” Barrett said of Green.

After Barrett spoke, he passed the Peacemaker Award plaque to Walker, and Walker presented the award to her husband.

“My gratitude is great and I am honored,” Green said.

The celebration began with a worship service led by Rev. Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas. Thomas is a minister of the United Church of Christ and once served a parish in Williamstown.

Thomas is a past Peacemaker Award honoree and is a co-founder of the Northern Berkshire Human Rights and Relations Task Force. Thomas was a Wesleyan University faculty member and university chaplain. He recently served as a Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ spiritual leader and led the way for the church to become the first Vermont-based Christian denomination to “welcome people regardless of sexual orientation,” according to biographical information made available during the King Day event.

He writes songs and short stories and narrated “Witness to Freedom,” a documentary about the South African struggle to abandon apartheid and become a democratic society. The series was broadcast on Connecticut Public Television venues.


Rev. Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas
Kairos

Thomas said that he is sometimes perceived as an "oddity" because he is an African-American who lives in Vermont, which he said “is embarrassingly referred to as ‘the whitest state in the Union.’”

Leading the largest Protestant denomination in the “whitest state in the Union” has also led to a curiosity about himself, Thomas said, and recalled an anecdote about a parishioner who asked Thomas why he was living in the state.

Thomas said that he listed reasons such as the state’s beauty, environmental policies, and reputation as a progressive state, but the parishioner repeated the question. Thomas said that he then realized that the question being asked was “what’s a black guy like you doing in a place like this?”

Vermont is a state that offers “awe-inspiring views,” is “socially challenging,” and is “abundant in colorful foliage and lacking colorful folk,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that most information about “people of color” made available by the media is “not good” and serves to “wound,” “demean,” and “generate negativity and fear.”

Racism exists when one race holds power over another race, and the white race presently has power over other races, Thomas said.

By the end of the 21st century, the situation will have changed, Thomas predicted, and added that by the mid-21st century, members of the white race will not be a population majority. Changes will arrive amidst “kicking and screaming and barricading buildings by whites,” Thomas said, and he also predicted that an African-American person will be elected President of the United States by the end of the upcoming decade.

A “kairos,” a Greek time measurement meaning “moment of truth,” is approaching, Thomas said. People who possess power have utilized all available mechanisms to separate from those whom are feared, hated, and mistrusted, according to Thomas.

Thomas said that a time when people will not be able to escape from one another is approaching, and whether the result is “hell or heaven” depends on mankind’s ability to “rid ourselves of the dead weight of bigotry.”

He shared a story about two frogs trapped in a bucket of cream. The frogs, in their effort to escape the bucket, kicked and thrashed about, but could not climb over the bucket sides.

Suddenly, the frogs realized that the kicking and thrashing had churned the cream into butter, and the butter provided a solid surface that would support them.

Celebration soloist Shaina Chappell


“The only way we can get to a better place is to change the content of the bucket, change the content,” Thomas said. “Together we can create a new legacy. Choose what you will serve, revenge or reconciliation. Our time, our kairos moment, is now.”

Additional information about “kairos,” its’ meaning and its’ use in a religious context may be acquired at the www.kairoscanada.org or a www.ashlandmethodist.org Internet web sites.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com and by calling 802-823-9367.
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