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Martin Luther King Jr. Day message: We must nurture our kids

Divinity student Matthew Quainoo speaks during a Martin

Divinity student Matthew Quainoo speaks during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast in Hauppauge on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

A young divinity student brought hundreds to their feet Monday in Hauppauge, urging them to fight racial injustice in the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. while nurturing their children and loving others.

“Yes, we need jobs. Yes, we need education. Yes, we need protection from police brutality. But we also need families,” said Matthew Quainoo, 20, a student at the Princeton Theological Seminary.

Quainoo’s hourlong speech before an audience of 500 in the grand ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hotel was among several events Monday celebrating the life and legacy of the slain civil rights icon.

On the 30th anniversary of the federal holiday, reminders of King’s message of love and equality echoed across Long Island with parades, children’s workshops and church jubilees.

Quainoo also talked about the influence that Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church had on the life of the civil rights leader and minister.

“Will we be to our children what Ebenezer was to King? Will we nurture our children and let them know they are beautiful and that they are loved?” he asked.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we must fight for strong black families,” Quainoo said, and he repeated the phrase as another round of applause almost drowned out his words in the hotel ballroom.

In Nassau County, others braved the cold in remembrance of King on Monday.

In Hempstead, a group of people marched through the village in the annual parade.

“We still have struggles today that need to be stamped out. That’s why we march,” said Martha Washington, 70, a retired nurse’s aide from Freeport.

Cadets from the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Aviation High School in Long Island City, Queens, led the parade, followed by marchers and a fleet of fire trucks from the Hempstead Fire Department.

The milelong parade, sponsored by the village, began at Kennedy Memorial Park and ended at the Miracle Christian Center, where others gathered for a celebratory program.

Pablo Correa, 17, a student at Hempstead High School, said “the fight is not over.”

“I think for my generation the struggle is having to deal with negative images. People have this image of minorities that simply isn’t true,” Correa added.

At a third morning event in Garden City, school-age children and their caregivers participated in a workshop held annually at the Long Island Children’s Museum.

About 20 children spent the day off from classes listening to a short talk on the legacy of King while creating their own canvas prints of his face. They were also provided a copy of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Kayla Martin, 9, of Baldwin was gently brushing a light blue background on her canvas before it was her turn to apply the block ink stamp onto it.

She said she learned how King tried to stop racism through peaceful means.

“He wanted to end violence and have people to use their words,” she said. Her grandmother, Willie Mae Martin of Hempstead, said she sometimes worries that King’s efforts are lost on the younger generations.

“I feel like his dream for the youth is sometimes falling apart,” she said. “Sometimes you feel like we’re going backwards in this country.”

Back at the Hyatt, the Rev. Charles Coverdale, chairman of the breakfast committee and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Riverhead, told the audience that he had been searching for a younger person to address this year’s breakfast session.

Then, he said, he saw Quainoo speak at his granddaughter’s graduation from the University of Rhode Island in May and asked him to speak at the breakfast.

“Our future is fine! Hope is alive!” Coverdale shouted after Quainoo finished speaking.

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