Malverne High School senior Ashley Akaeze said she knew right away that she wanted to perform at the district’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration when she was offered the chance.
King is a role model for the club Akaeze runs — the Malverne High School Black Studies and World Cultures Club — and she searched a long time to find the right passage to read. She settled on a poem by Jamie McKenzie, “Standing Tall,” and read it to hundreds of district students, faculty and parents in the Howard T. Herber Middle School auditorium Friday night.
“Some kings rule their kingdoms sitting down,” Akaeze, 17, began. “There is a king who stood strong, stood proud, stood tall, when his county laid back with its eyes closed.”
Across Long Island, schools, churches and community organizations are honoring the civil rights leader with breakfasts, marches, exhibits and special services during the weekend and on Monday’s holiday honoring the civil rights leader. In new events and traditions spanning decades, community leaders said King’s message of peace and justice, which rallied the fight for racial equality, is still an important one nearly 50 years after his death.
In Malverne, students performed a series of skits, songs and readings before district officials presented their Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award.
“I wanted to represent us and be a part of something that’s trying to promote unity,” Akaeze said of her decision to participate.
The district has held the event for 30 years, said Stephen Benfante, event organizer and assistant principal at Davison Avenue Intermediate School.
The 2016 honoree was Jamie Carter-Jorif, a social worker with the district who said she encourages children to be good citizens.
“To be compared to Dr. King on a humanitarian level is wonderful,” she said in an interview.
Superintendent James Hunderfund said the district is proud of the annual event. School officials already seek to instill positive values and good character in their students, but King is a particularly important model and the event is one that brings the community together, he said.
“For us it’s one of the values of the entire district, this idea of unity,” Carter-Jorif said.
In Valley Stream, the theme of unity also inspired the Hamza Masjid mosque to host an interfaith service in honor of King. At that event, scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, officials are expecting nearly 100 people of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths to gather for a reflection on King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech that focused on nonviolent opposition.
Karim Mozawalla, trustee and spokesman for the mosque, said officials wanted to host the event because acceptance and unity remain relevant issues today.
“One of the primary purposes is to show unity and solidarity with people of all faiths and ethnicities, especially in today’s day and age when there’s a lot of things being said against different faiths and races,” Mozawalla said.
Other events around the Island include the Long Beach Martin Luther King Center’s march, starting Monday at 11 a.m. at the corner of Laurelton Boulevard and West Park Avenue. Hempstead Village officials also are to host a parade, starting 9 a.m. at Kennedy Memorial Park.
A march and program in Glen Cove are to start at 8:45 a.m. Monday at First Baptist Church on Continental Place.
The Half Hollow Hills Community Library in Dix Hills is to commemorating King’s legacy with poetry, music and songs at 2 p.m. Monday. A community breakfast celebrating his life will be held at Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton at 10 a.m. Monday.
That King’s message resonates with so many communities years later speaks to its power, Akaeze said, adding that no matter how he is celebrated this weekend, it’s important to keep remembering.
“It just shows the power of diversity and raising your voice,” Akaeze said. But “we still have work to do. There’s space to improve and be accepting and tolerant.”