Parade marchers on Long Island say Martin Luther King's message inspires them every day. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Newsday Staff

This story was reported and written by John Asbury, Robert Brodsky, Tiffany Cusaac-Smith and Bart Jones.

Long Island celebrations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and legacy Monday included calls to never let up on his demands for human rights, helping those in need, and committing to public service.

In Hempstead, several dozen people ignored the frigid temperatures and marched about 2 miles in Long Island's oldest MLK Day parade, from Village Hall to Hofstra University for an indoor ceremony. In Cedarhurst, volunteers put together care packages for foreign migrants living in shelters since arriving in New York City. And in Huntington Village, Attorney General Letitia James told those in the audience at the historic Bethel A.M.E. Church on Park Avenue that the voting booth is still the best way to live King's message.

Elsewhere, parade participants marched in Long Beach, a Cold Spring Harbor synagogue and a library in Middle Island held days of service, and musical performances marked MLK Day celebrations in Wheatley Heights and Elmont.

Marching for history

Among those marching in the Hempstead Village parade was Ron Naclerio, who shared how his late father, Dr. Emil Naclerio, helped save King's life in 1958 after an assassination attempt in Harlem.

Students from the Academy School march in the Village of...

Students from the Academy School march in the Village of Hempstead's annual MLK Day parade. Credit: Howard Schnapp

“The fact that Dr. Naclerio is associated with Dr. King; [that] Dr. King is associated with Dr. Naclerio — it brings tremendous, tremendous joy to me,” said Naclerio, of Bayside, Queens, who received a citation Monday from the village on behalf of his father.

King, who was stabbed in the chest at a book-signing, underwent hourslong surgery performed by Emil Naclerio, who was on his way to a wedding at the time and was told to report to Harlem Hospital because a well-known individual was injured. Ron Naclerio said his father was unaware it was King until he was in surgical scrubs.

King would later send Emil Naclerio a letter reading: “Please know that I will remember your gestures of goodwill so long as the cords of memory shall lengthen.”

Deeper meanings

Cornell Craig, vice president of equity and inclusion at Hofstra, said King’s message in his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech is more than just the words he spoke in 1963.

“It’s important that we go beyond just the dream and really go to the essence of what he fought for and what the civil rights movement fought for,” Craig said. “And that was for another level of justice and freedom for our people.”

Marchers in Long Beach's MLK Day parade.

Marchers in Long Beach's MLK Day parade. Credit: Howard Schnapp

At the Marion and Aaron Gural JCC community center in Cedarhurst, several dozen volunteers came together with a specific mission to honor King: helping some of the thousands of immigrants who have arrived in New York City in recent months.

They packed hats, scarves, gloves, toothbrushes, food, and printed resource material to deliver to migrants living in shelters in Far Rockaway, Queens, just over the Nassau County border, said Laurie Brofsky, one of the organizers.

“There is a need. The migrant families have come here for many different reasons, but they haven’t come with much,” she said. “The weather is getting cold, and we felt that they could use a little bit of assistance.”

Volunteering for others

The volunteers spent the morning putting the goods in baskets, and then loading them onto trucks to transport the items to the shelters. Most of the migrants who received the items are in the United States seeking political asylum, Brofsky said.

The effort was part of a larger UJC program in which some 5,000 volunteers were performing community service Monday throughout the metropolitan area, she said.

One volunteer in Cedarhurst, Elina Allen, said she brought three of her children because she thought it was important they remember the less fortunate on the day honoring King.

“I like to bring the kids just to remind them not everyone has it so easy and people need help and it’s good to give your time,” the Valley Stream resident said.

Fighting for justice

On Monday night in Huntington, James told more than 100 people inside the church that Monday “is a day when this country should put a mirror to itself,” and citizens must play an active role “to protect and defend our fragile democracy.”

“And we should ask the fundamental question,” James said, “whether the progress that Dr. King died for, and was murdered for, has been eroded. And the answer my friends, is yes. Because we are still fighting for social justice, we are still striving to stop hate. We are still working to ensure that every child has equal opportunities regardless of their race or their ZIP code.”

She described “the systemic dismantling of hard-fought civil rights gains and societal progress, and we all carry the responsibility of standing up to it. … And the way we do that is by following Dr. King's example and pushing power through the ballot box, marching in quiet dignity and in defiance to all that we are witnessing … Progress has been slow, achingly slow, but that must not dissuade us, discourage us or disenfranchise us. … because we are at a crossroads where extremism and grievances unfortunately masquerade as facts.”

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