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Chester County Press

King breakfast informs, warns and inspires

01/17/2017 11:24AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

With the current political environment and the upcoming Presidential inauguration serving as a backdrop, the 16th annual Martin Luther King, Jr., CommUNITY of the Greater Kennett Area Breakfast on Jan. 16 served to inform, warn, and inspire an audience of more than 150 who gathered at the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square.
The event, sponsored in part by the Kendal-Crosslands Communities, the Jean and Aaron Martin Charitable Foundation and Genesis HealthCare, was a celebration of song, verse and acknowledgment in honor of the civil rights leader. Led by choirmaster Leon R. Spencer, the CommUNITY Choir performed two selections, “We Have a Dream,” written by choir member Dennis Melton; and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Spencer was later honored by the organization for his longtime participation in the annual breakfast.
Similar honors went to board members Cathy Brison and Mary-Jo Tucker.
Special acknowledgment was given to the late Mabel Latta Thompson, the founder of the Kennett Area MLK organization, who served as a longtime educator and civic leader in the Kennett area.
“I served at the pleasure of Mabel Thompson,” Melton said. “I believe in her vision. Mabel taught me that, as a white man, I could participate in spreading the word of Martin Luther King’s dream, with knowledge and with sincerity. So Mabel, thank you for helping me learn each day to learn more about Martin Luther King’s dream. Thank you, Mabel.”
Elder Jerry F. Poe was recognized for his “dedicated and principled leadership as president of the of the MLK community” from 2011 to 2016, and his “invaluable contributions toward advancing peace and harmony in the Kennett Square area.”
Ivan Thomas, the station manager of WITN in Wilmington, praised the event for bringing together a diverse group of people, which was Dr. King’s dream 54 years ago.
“Thank you to everyone who played a part, because whatever you did directly, made me who I am, indirectly,” he said. Thomas then invited University of Delaware adjunct professor Gregory Lloyd to read an excerpt from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
However, the event served chiefly as a constructive forum for ideas shared by guest speakers. Presenting a citation to the organization, State Sen. Andy Dinniman called for a re-commitment to the education of young people, by funneling funds away from testing.
“Spend the money on education, but spend it not to test and test and test [children], and then stamp failure on their backs,” Dinniman said. “We need together to know that testing and assessment has its role, but not the way the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is doing this. One company has received $742 million from the state in the last eight years, simply to test the students. Think of what that money could have done if we put it in the neighborhood schools. Think of what that money could have done if we made sure that each child is taught to the top of the curriculum and given an opportunity.”
During her 50-minute address, keynote speaker Mildred “Mit” Joyner, the chair of the undergraduate social work department at West Chester University, used the recent Presidential election as a talking point. She said that numerous citizens “failed miserably” by relying too much on social media, and that propaganda and fake news perpetuated hate, fear and cynicism in the community.
“This occurred on both sides of the aisle,” she said. “The question to ponder is, ‘Was this an anomaly, or will voters begin to think critically and use the skills of research when making decisions?'”
Joyner’s exposure to race relations first occurred when she was a 16-year-old student traveling in Europe. On the return boat trip to New York, she and her fellow travelers came across another group of students, who had invited her to participate on a panel about “What it is like to be a Negro” in the United States.
“I was dumbfounded, because no one had ever asked me that question before. I was a girl in Kennett Square, and to me, I had a great life,” she said. “I was confused and perplexed, because as African-Americans, we didn’t spend every waking moment commiserating about the pitfalls of being black. Frankly, being an African-American was great, but I found when I returned that I needed to pay more attention to what was going on.”
Attending college, Joyner said, taught her about the complexities of race. She said that the lyrics of Helen Reddy and Nina Simone “ignited my soul and passion to stand up, speak up and change the things that were unjust, not only to me, but to others,” she said.
Joyner said that the march of the African-American community toward absolute equality has seen a lot of gains, but a lot of losses.
“Remember Dr. King’s words from that speech the night before he died. He warned us all that we have some difficult days ahead,” she said. “He didn’t know if he would get there, but he had been to the mountain top, and he didn’t mind if he didn’t get there, because he had lived a long life. He happened to see that promised land. He said that he was happy, that he didn’t fear anyone, because he had seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Joyner said that communities must condemn racism, protect refugees from deportation, defend any movement to register Muslims, and retrain citizens – a blueprint of social change and community. Referring to the words of Supreme Court Judge Thurgood Marshall, Joyner said,
“Communities must dissent from the indifference. Communities must dissent from the apathy. Communities must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust. We must dissent, because America can do better, because America has nothing else but to do better.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.

       




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