Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon, speaks at the Riverhead Library...

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon, speaks at the Riverhead Library on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, where the Town of Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force presented a program about the speeches and writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in honor of his birthday. Credit: John Roca

Prominent Black speakers and leaders from around Long Island gathered in Riverhead on Saturday to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and to call for action supporting the voting rights battle on Capitol Hill.

The Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force hosted "MLK Through Many Voices," a series of speeches from the civil rights leader which was also available on Zoom. Several dozen people attended the event in person at the Riverhead Free Library, according to organizers.

Speakers included Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon, Suffolk County Community College Professor James Banks, East End NAACP president Larry Street and the Rev. Charles Coverdale and Deacon Robert "Bubbie" Brown, both from the First Baptist Church of Riverhead.

Street read King’s "I’ve Been to the Mountaintop" speech, which King delivered on April 3, 1968 — the day before he was assassinated — in support of sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, Tennessee. Afterward, Street said he was concerned about the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

"If these bills don’t get passed, it will put our voting rights in jeopardy and have a profound impact on people of color and their vote," Street said. "This would put us back at the beginning when Martin Luther King and other civil rights organization leaders fought so hard to get the right to vote."

At times visibly emotional, Street suggested that people of all ethnicities and from all walks of life should start letter-writing campaigns to their local town leaders and members of Congress asking them to support voting rights.

The House of Representatives passed voting rights legislation on Thursday. However, the bill faces peril in the Senate, which is deadlocked 50-50 and could be subject to filibuster.

Banks, who read excerpts from King’s "Loving Your Enemies" sermon delivered at a Montgomery, Alabama, church in 1957, said King’s dream needs to manifest in a new movement, and it is up to this generation to make the civil rights leader’s dream a reality.

"The time has come for us to join hands, brothers and sisters, different genders, different colors, and connect and say, ‘We’re as mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore,'" Banks said. "The time has come for us to say ‘America, we want action.’ "

Cindy Clifford, co-chair of the Anti-Bias Task Force, told Newsday later that Saturday’s event was important in getting people to remember King’s message of unity and change through peaceful actions.

"I’m personally grateful that at least one day a year there’s a focus on what his platform was," Clifford said, "and it was echoed in the speeches today about loving other people, loving your enemy."

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