Thousands of Long Islanders marched in parades, attended memorials and took part in other events Monday to honor the nation's leading civil rights advocate and visionary: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
In Long Beach, a group of more than 150, including children, lawmakers and Marines, marched in frigid temperatures for more than a mile to the MLK Center on Riverside Boulevard. The marchers chanted King’s name while singing verses of “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light of Mine.”
Sarah Dingle, an MLK Center board member from Long Beach, said the march made her appreciate the efforts of civil rights leaders.
“I feel like I am able to relive what my ancestors fought for,” she said.
The MLK Day program has been a fixture of the Long Beach community since 1981, said James Hodge, chairman of the center.
“We are here to continue the life and legacy of the late great Dr. Martin Luther King and all he means to us,” Hodge said. “The man is gone but the dream lives on.”
The program included speeches from Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), along with several musical performances and a youth mixed-martial arts demonstration.
The Rev. Jonathan Shaw, of the Brooklyn-based Crown Ministries International, asked the crowd to hark back to King’s words at the 1963 March on Washington, where he urged some 250,000 protesters to focus on the “fierce urgency of now.” Nearly 60 years later, Shaw said the urgency is no less dire.
“Dr. King has a dream of things unfolding and things we are now experiencing,” he said in a fiery keynote address. “But we can’t let the dream die. The time is now. We got to do it now.”
In Hauppauge, some 600 attendees packed a hotel ballroom for a memorial event that has taken place for more than three decades — and whose founder was told it would never endure because it was begun by a small East End Baptist church.
“I feel great, because 35 years ago when I started, all the politicians and people said that you will not last more than two or three years at best," said the Rev. Charles Coverdale, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Riverhead. "And yet we are standing here 35 years later.”
King was honored at the event — attended by politicians, law enforcement officials and religious leaders — as a courageous civil rights leader whose message of racial equality and respect is needed in 2020 more than ever.
A keynote speaker said King was also far more radical than commonly believed.
“The King that we celebrate to this day is a domesticated, unthreatening King,” said Obery H. Hendricks Jr., a visiting scholar at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary.
“King was much more radical and much more threatening to the status quo, which is why he was killed,” Hendricks said. “In some ways he was as radical as Malcolm X," since King “talked about making structural change. He talked about class struggle.”
The event attracted people of diverse faiths and races, and included an invocation by a leader at one of Long Island’s largest mosques, the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury.
One attendee, Reginald Archer, was not even alive when King was fatally shot as he stood on a motel balcony in Memphis on April 4, 1968.
King “is one of the most important people historically,” said Archer, 22, a student at Stony Brook University and a member of First Baptist Church. “As a young black guy I am just so encouraged by all the things he’s done for us … and bringing us to where we are today.”
Long before “income inequality” was identified as a central cause of countless social ills, King fought for economic justice, calling for a minimum income for all and organizing the Poor People’s Campaign, a march to the nation’s capital from Mississippi that got underway just weeks after his death.
His conclusion that poverty all too often resulted from racism also inspired Long Islanders on Monday to join in the National Day of Service, to help those struggling to pay for even life’s basic necessities.
Despite the intense predawn cold, people and families lined up at Mid Island Collision in Rockville Centre, hoping to secure some of the 4,500 new winter coats given away by owner Robert Jesberger to individuals and agencies, from veterans’ groups to homeless shelters.
“It was amazing how many people were here at 5 a.m.,” Jesberger said in a phone interview.
His generosity spanned borders. “They came from the tristate area, Manhattan, the Bronx, even Connecticut,” he said.
Demand swiftly exceeded supply, inspiring a new initiative: buying more coats for the 100 or so agencies that otherwise would miss out, he said.
“I do this for biblical reasons,” Jesberger said, referring to Luke 12:48, which says: “From unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”
Jesberger, who enlisted volunteers to help sort and pack the coats, said businesses have an obligation to give back to their communities. He challenged businesses across the country “to do the same thing.”
Also calling on volunteers, the UJA-Federation of New York said it hoped to draw 5,000 of them to fulfill 60 projects on Long Island as well as in New York City and Westchester County to give out winter clothes and packing groceries. They held such an event Monday at Plainview's Mid-Island Y JCC and helped pack produce for the needy.
At Molloy College, students planned to fill bags with crayons, finger puppets and the like for schoolchildren, sew crocheted squares into blankets to be given to Project ChemoCrochet for women enduring chemotherapy, pack flatware for Hempstead’s The Mary Brennan INN, a soup kitchen, and organize personal toiletries for the homeless.
With Joan Gralla