Last Monday morning, the 33rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr./Albert Owens Scholarship Breakfast was held at Maloney High School.
And for the 33rd time, the event’s message was filled with hope and persistence for justice and equality in our community and nation.
I have been honored to be a part of this outstanding event founded by Ms. RhudeanRaye almost three decades ago. It continues to show Rhudean’s steadfast and tireless commitment to honor our civil rights leaders and keep hope alive and to make Meriden proud by providing a yearly forum to remind us to cherish the American values of equality and justice.
This is especially important now — more than ever — when these very values are under assault.
At age 91, RhudeanRaye remains chairperson of this much-needed event.
When I asked her to comment on this year’s event, she said: “I feel no way tired and have come too far from where I started. Nobody told me this road would be easy. I pray we can keep hope and the ‘dream’ alive, and pray for our breakfast committee and thank them for their dedication on this journey.”
During the breakfast we were entertained by the harmonious young voices of Celine and Miguel Cardona who have also performed in previous years.
The mixed Gospel choir from The Mount Olive AME Zion Church of Hartford sang inspiring gospel music and Meriden’s own Maloney High School Allegrettos added their beautiful voices to the occasion.
And, finally, the Praise Dance Team from Bible Way Church presented a well-choreographed performance.
This delightful entertainment set the stage for powerful remarks from attending dignitaries — including Senator Richard Blumenthal, Representative Elizabeth Esty and Mayor Kevin Scarpati — about the importance of standing up and taking action against injustice and inequality.
Keynote speaker, Reverend Derrill Antonio Blue, who travelled all the way from Rochester, New York with his family to deliver the address, told stories of persistence and urged the attendees to speak out and take action against hate and intolerance.
Rev. Blue’s message resonates today in the face of a racially charged political and civil environment where the leader of our country has opened the doors to more racial strife and divisiveness and has broken the norms of civility against people of color.
Another message that resonated throughout the event was hope. Students from each Meriden public school submitted essays for the event on what advice Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give us if he were alive today.
Max Caplan from Nathan Hale Elementary School, the elementary school winner, wrote: “I think Martin Luther King Jr. would definitely have some advice for our current leaders who do not lead with love. He would say that a man with hate is a man who cannot lead anyone; he would be opposed to the government that would hurt people, such as taking away their health insurance. Dr. King would advise our leaders to help people like those who have been hurt by hurricanes in Puerto Rico. Dr. King would not want to see anyone suffering or in pain, especially his fellow Americans. He would want to see everyone helping out. Finally, he would encourage the leaders of our country to lead with love, respect and understanding because no one should live with the burden of hate.”
George Hall, the Middle School essay winner from Washington Middle School wrote about the many injustices we see today.
Dr. King would say to “stop committing all of these crimes out of hate and fear of people different from us. If he were alive today he would say we need to take a look at ourselves as a county to see all the problems we have created and try to fix them. He would encourage us to be the one that protects the person who is different from other people and that as a nation we should be done with intolerance because it only divides our country. We are all created as individuals, but only together can we achieve his dream of equality.”
The final essay winner was written by Jack Flores from Maloney High School. Jack noted that Dr. King was a strong believer in nonviolence and human dignity, and that his actions spoke louder than his words.
If he were alive today, his advice to us would be: “To never give up — to find a way to move forward, to respect everyone despite our differences, and to stop the violence whenever possible in order to promote world peace.”
I was very moved by the heartfelt essays of these children whose message of hope for change against injustice and inequality serves as inspirational for all.
All I can add is: Amen.
Michael S. Rohde is a former mayor and city councilor of Meriden.