MERIDEN — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 50-year-old message that everyone has the power to make positive change was a central theme Monday at the 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr./Albert Owens scholarship breakfast.
About a half-dozen speakers recalled strides toward racial and social equality since the 1960s civil rights era, but the current government shutdown and divisions in the U.S. were also on their minds.
“It’s important to instill as a reminder what Dr. King stood for and ask ‘how do we carry on his legacy?’” said Mayor Kevin Scarpati. “The work isn’t done and it won’t be done after today’s breakfast, and at next year’s breakfast.”
About 200 people braved frigid temperatures to attend the annual breakfast in the Maloney High School cafeteria. The event helps raise funds for an annual scholarship while honoring the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and labor leader Albert Owens, who helped local African Americans achieve employment, financial and social parity.
The breakfast and scholarship fund was founded and is organized annually by Rhudean Raye. It has awarded 116 scholarships in its 34 year history.
“That’s an extraordinary number of scholarships,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, an annual attendee. “Despite all the darkness and danger in the world, to celebrate that wonderful business of Martin Luther King is to build bridges, not walls, to bring us together, not divide us.”
Guest speaker and WTNH-TV Channel 8 anchor Keith Kountz said it’s disheartening and shocking to hear stories about people calling the police on African-Americans, as well as the 20-percent rise in hate crimes in 2017.
“There is clearly a great deal of work to be done to achieve Dr. King’s dream,” Kountz said. “I am heartened by the great strides we’ve seen since the civil rights movement.”
Kountz shared the story of growing up in the south and witnessing African-Americans gaining more opportunities, including his father becoming a renowned physician and his personal hero.
“The wide arc of America is that not that long ago, our armed services were segregated,” Kountz said, adding that African-Americans are now mayors in southern cities such as Atlanta, Georgia and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The prime example of how far blacks have come in the country could be found in President Barack Obama.
“There are so many reasons to be optimistic for the future,” Kountz said. “I implore all of you to celebrate the heroes in your own lives.”
Raye was honored with citations from U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Connecticut, the Connecticut General Assembly, and the city.
As a teacher and a nurse, Raye said her mission during her working years was to serve. Now 92 and retired, she still aims to provide opportunities for education.
But Raye also called on the community for help.
“Here is where you all come in,” Raye told the crowd. “While my goal is honorable, I can not achieve this alone. I don’t have personal finances or the years left to make this happen without your help. While I thank you for your past support, I implore you to continue to make this event a priority.”
Meriden Public School students were also honored Monday for their essays detailing what advice they think King would have given to them.
Winners included: Adam Pitcher of Nathan Hale School, Anthony Valerie of Washington Middle School, Lananh Tran of Maloney High School and Rebecca Wozniak of Platt High School.
Individual School winners include: Elijah Spikes of John Barry, Sophia Roman of Benjamin Franklin, Isabella Leone of Hanover , Reilly Lewia of Thomas Hooker, Savion Saucier of Casimir Pulaski, Arissa Moore of Israel Putnam, Liam Moylan of Roger Sherman, Humyra Ferdus and Mikayla Bunnell of Lincoln Middle School, Courtney Ubaike of Maloney High School, and Anahi Gutierrez of Platt High School.
Read more articles like this and help support local journalism by subscribing to the Record Journal.
Unlimited Digital Access just 99¢
Read more articles like this by subscribing to the Record Journal.
Unlimited Digital Access for just 99¢