NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The culmination of Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service honored one of the community's best known advocates: Richard Alcombright.
Not Mayor Richard Alcombright, since he'd lost that title two weeks ago, but the Dick Alcombright who'd been involved in the community long before he took office eight years ago.
"I really think it's wonderfully appropriate we're recognizing the man and not the mayor today, because Dick's role as a peacemaker flows from who he is and not from any position that he's held," Mayor Thomas Bernard said.
Comments about Alcombright read by members of the MLK Committee ranged from his being "a special human being" to his passion for the city's trail system to to caring about his fellow citizens to his form of leadership that "shared responsibility and power."
"We felt that he went way beyond any job or responsibility he has had," said Kathy Keeser, a member of the MLK Committee that nominates each year's recipient. "He's always been an approachable leader who worked tirelessly to include others in the process of building committee and to improve the lives of others. ...
"He's done so much to support the work of many nonprofits, educational programs, small projects and community events throughout his years as mayor, on the City Council at the bank on and on."
Alcombright, surrounded by local leaders, the MLK Committee and members of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition on a stage in Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Venable Hall, said the recognition was "humbling, heartwarming and, at some level, deeply spiritual."
His parents, Danny and Bernice "Red" Alcombright, had taught him the greatest gift was giving your time and listening.
"To think with my head and act with my heart," he said. "We cannot always understand but we can always empathize."
Many of the hundreds of people who had come out to make Martin Luther King Day a "day on, not a day off," were making the same efforts that he did, only that his time in office had made him more visible. That visibility had also brought in contact with numerous communities — those of veterans, the elderly, the poor, LGBTQ, faith, mental health and so many more.
"I recognize the greatest gift I was given was the gift of inclusion," Alcombright said. "It has just made me a better human being and I have all of you here to thank for that."
Committee Chairman Alex Daugherty made the presentation. Alcombright's name will be added to the honor roll kept in the NBCC offices. He also was presented with a certificate and a resolution from the state Senate read by state Sen. Adam Hinds.
Other parts of the county also marked Martin Luther King Day with service projects and programs. In Pittsfield, Berkshire Community College headed a day of service that began on campus with Francis Jones-Sneed, a professor at MCLA, giving the keynote address. Then volunteers took off to the Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity office, Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center, and Harvest Table.
BCC instructor Wendy Laurin gave up her day off to do some painting at Habitat for Humanity. She was joined by students and a volunteer from the OLLI program who offered to lend a hand there.
"They do amazing things for the community. They take care of the community so I thought I'd come by to help," Laurin said.
Construction Manager Mike Bedard said eight volunteers came from BCC and together with Habitat's Amicore volunteers a dated kitchen was demolished to make way for a future renovation and multiple other rooms were painted. He said the volunteers did "everything from carpentry work to painting and plastering."
"The Amicore movement generally sees Martin Luther King day as a day on, not a day off. It is a day of service," Bedard said.
Northern Berkshire's 25th community day of service included service projects at the YMCA, Goodwill, Louison House, Adams Youth Center, Friendship Center Food Pantry and winterizing homes. At MCLa, volunteers made mittens, scarves and blankets, put up care boxes for veterans and Valentines for nursing homes, participated in writing and discussion workshops and decorated "magic trees."
A lunch was Papa John's Pizza, fried chicken from Walmart and sides and serving from Aramark and the Berkshire Food Project.
This was the first year the event has been held at Venable Hall. The last several years it had been held in MCLA's Church Street Center but Glenda Matos-Carter, program coordinator for NBCC's Northern Berkshire Neighbors, said the event had outgrown the building and was looking for something more accessible.
Quoting King's words that "every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle, the tireless exertions of passionate concerns of dedicated individuals," college President James Birge welcomed the crowd and thanked them for their exertions. "By your presence today, you have lifted up Dr. King's words as evidence his wisdom, his grace, his activism transcends generations to ensure that we continue to be brothers and sisters in the struggle toward justice."
One of the projects for the Pittsfield event was ripping out a kitchen for Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.
State Sen. Adam Hinds said the way to overcome the current divisive is "coming together on common projects, serving each other, serving with each other." State Rep. John Barrett III recalled how the event had begun during his tenure and spoke of how inspired he was by last year's Women's March, which he calls the "Peace March."
Donna and David Motta both read poems they had written; the MCLA Allegrettoes performed; and Daugherty and Keeser thanked those involved. Gwendolyn Hampton-VanSant of Multicultural Bridge, based in Lee, encouraged residents and organizations to sign a pledge to build safe, inclusive communities with a goal of 10,000.
"We're kind of leading the charge since we're doing it countywide," she said. "We're asking each of you to sign this and post it on social media with the hashtag #Allhandsin."
Several speakers referred to King and the more recent visit by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a contemporary of King
who spoke at MCLA's commencement, and encouraged the crowd to make "necessary noise" when they see injustice.
"This country will heal more quickly with longer lasting results if we remember the principles upon which this country was founded," Alcombright said. "A country for all with liberty, equlity, and justice for all -- including people from places like Haiti, Nigeria, Sudan, Ghana and Egypt and from all over this world ... all these people who certainly are not less than."
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