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Long Islanders remember Martin Luther King Jr.

The Roosevelt Public Library held its 6th annual

The Roosevelt Public Library held its 6th annual commemoration service for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Jan. 18, 2014) Credit: Johnny Milano

Long Island residents paid tribute Saturday to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during celebrations of his civil rights legacy.

About 100 people attended a two-hour presentation during the Roosevelt Public Library's sixth annual celebration recognizing King's efforts. The ceremony kicked off with "Lift Every Voice and Sing," a spiritual often referred to as the black national anthem.

"We have the responsibility to continue this movement forward," said former WWRL radio personality Bob Law, the keynote speaker, who received a standing ovation. "We can't just talk about ourselves in the historical context. Where is the 2014 Martin Luther King Jr.? We can't just look back at where we came from. We have to look at where we are going, so that indeed we are 'free at last.' "

King was an iconic clergyman best known for his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech and for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination through nonviolent means. King was 39 when he was assassinated in 1968. He would have turned 85 last week.

"Forty-six years later after his death, Dr. Martin Luther King's words are still relevant," said Roosevelt's black heritage librarian, Carol Gilliam, who described King as a prophet.

The event featured a presentation of the film "A Knock at Midnight," a recording of a speech by King about living under constant threat of death. The speech was illustrated by videos of King being arrested, and water hoses, batons and tear gas used against protesters.

Sandra Vance, of Uniondale, was among the audience members wiping away tears. Vance, a secretary at Faith Baptist Church in Hempstead Village, recalled watching television news coverage of civil rights marches as an elementary school student in New York.

"We saw what was going on," said Vance. "The beatings and things. It made tears come down."

The Roosevelt event also included musical performances by Ashonti Merritt, 16, of Roosevelt, who sang Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come."

Poemstars, a group of spoken word poets, performed a piece titled "Change" while spread throughout the crowd, giving the impression of surround sound.

"We stand for many of the same things Dr. Martin Luther King did," said poet Steven Licardi, of West Islip. "We are trying to make a change through our poetry."

In Lakeview, the local library screened the 60-minute documentary "In Remembrance of Martin," the last event of a three-day celebration.

"We have a black heritage collection here," librarian Sean Edwards said. "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did visit Lakeview when he visited Long Island, so we thought it would be appropriate."

Stony Brook University, Suffolk County Community College and the Long Island Volunteer Center brought together 200 volunteers to assemble disaster preparedness kits at Stony Brook to be donated to the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk and the Gerald Ryan Outreach Center.

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