The First Baptist Church in Newton hosted the 52nd Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Celebration, the theme this year being “Know Your Neighbor.” The celebration consisted of various speakers and community choirs, all of whom in some way reinforced the message of knowing your neighbor.
Rev. S. John Boopalan of the First Baptist Church in Newton began the celebration by offering words of welcome. Boopalan discussed King’s fight for a path of freedom and encouraged the audience to “shed light on those around [them]” in order to continue on King’s path. Boopalan also brought up King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Each year, reading it reminds him of King’s mission to shed light, he said.
Rabbi Allison Berry of Temple Shalom introduced the idea of knowing your neighbor by offering up a metaphor—she told the audience to think about how uncomfortable they get when they are forced to sit in the middle seat on an airplane. She then encouraged the audience members to introduce themselves to someone sitting next to them.
“What we do know is that when we share something personal, something real, or something meaningful with that stranger sitting next to us, we open up worlds,” Berry said. “We go to places we might have never gone. We break down barriers, and we open ourselves up to the possibility of something new. … And maybe by doing this for just a small moment, we can fight hate. We can fight the stereotyping and judgement that marks our world. We can feel seen and maybe a little less alone.”
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller also offered her remarks during the ceremony. She thanked all of the people who made the event possible, then discussed the importance of youth leadership in America.
“To the young people in the audience, we adults owe it to you, our next generation, we owe it to you to march tirelessly towards justice and equality, to know our neighbors, to invite others to our dinner table,” Fuller said. “We owe it to you to listen to you carefully and follow your lead.”
David Fleishman, superintendent of Newton public schools, then spoke about the importance of discussing race at a young age.
“For all of us who are white, get a chance to talk about race more than just on Martin Luther King Day—because our students of color do it everyday,” he said.
Throughout the program, many students from the Newton Theatre Company’s performance of The Monologue Project: Voices of Color spoke about their personal experiences of being a young person of color. Laila Polk-Thomas spoke about gerrymandering and the suppression of the black vote.
“One of the pernicious forms of voter suppression is gerrymandering,” Polk-Thomas said. “Gerrymandering is the process of redrawing voter districts to fit the demands of a party’s political power. It has been and still is used to suppress the black vote. … The basis of our democracy is the vote, so how can we ever fully participate in this democracy if we are unable to make our voices heard?”
Ashlynn Saint-Preux spoke about how the phrase, “I don’t see color,” is one she finds counter-productive and hurtful to the mission to discuss race openly and freely. She encouraged the audience not to be afraid to talk about race, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
“If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me,” Saint-Preux said. “When someone says they don’t see color, it’s as if they’re denying that part of my identity.”
Rev. Devlin Scott of NewCity Church spoke near the end of the ceremony, encouraging audience members to make room for others, just as King did.
“So I’ll leave you with this: Dr. King had a dream, now we have a mission. … Let’s really know our neighbor,” Scott said.
Featured Image by Anneesa Wermers/ Heights Staff