Events mark MLK Day on Long Island

Frances Brisbane, dean of the School of Social Welfare at Stony Brook University, speaks at the Martin Luther King Jr. program hosted by the East End Voters Coalition in Riverhead. Videojournalist: Michael Cusanelli (Jan. 15, 2011)

Ronald J. Taylor will mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day by standing before congregants at Faith Baptist Church in Hempstead Monday morning and delivering a short monologue inspired by the civil rights icon's last speech.

Taylor, who turns 18 this week, was born more than two decades after King delivered the speech to striking workers on April 3, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., the night before his assassination.

But the preacher's call for racial equality and social justice nearly 44 years ago resonates with Taylor as if King were speaking today and explicitly for Taylor's generation. With his performance, Taylor wants to leave listeners wondering where or what is "the promised land" that King spoke about.

"We have been given this dream and what are we doing with this dream?" said Taylor, of Hempstead, a freshman at Syracuse University. "When King said these final words, he told us: 'I did my work. I have reached my potential, and here at the end I give you this image of the promised land and what are you going to do on my behalf, and your behalf, to get there?' "

Such reflections are part of a long weekend of events to remember, honor and continue King's legacy on Long Island.

King, who was born Jan. 15, would have been 83 this year.

There are religious services, choir performances and discussions, as well as parades and award ceremonies. Those remembrances are consistent with a national call to make the anniversary a day of service.

"It has always been about remembering the sacrifices and struggles of those who came before us and about not wasting the opportunity ahead of you," said Darryl Dodson, 47, president of the NAACP's Huntington Branch. "That's a message that should be relevant to our youth."

Taylor's monologue will follow the Village of Hempstead's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade, a procession in its 19th year that will start at 9 a.m. in front of Town Hall.

Other events will highlight parts of King's message that advocates see as relevant and urgent for our time.

Children and adults at an interfaith celebration, taking place at 2 p.m. Monday at the Suffolk Jewish Community Center in Hauppauge, will address how King's message applies to fighting economic inequality.

"The King holiday helps us to pass on his legacy as one of the greatest Americans who have ever lived," said Richard Koubek, an activist with Long Island Jobs with Justice. "We want people to leave with a plan to do something to end the scandal of poverty and hunger in America."

The Rev. Luonne Abraham Rouse will stress common threads between King's faith and activism at the NAACP's program in Huntington. It is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Monday at the Bethel A.M.E. Church.

"His message," said Rouse, "was one of ultimate love."

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