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Yonkers' MLK celebration on same day as inauguration honors both 'prophet and a president'

Through stirring speeches, Scriptures and song, about 300 hundred reverent and spirited Yonkers residents packed the Nepperhan Community Center on Monday morning to celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The keynote speaker, the Rev. Marvin E. Wiley of the Rock of Ages Baptist Church in Maywood, Ill., said King's holiday held particular significance as President Barack Obama was being inaugurated for his second term on the same day.

"Today honors both a preacher and a politician, prophet and president, pastor and parishioner," Wiley said. "God is worthy to be praised."

Wiley marveled at King's accomplishments, despite being assassinated at age 39. Mobilizing millions in nonviolent protest efforts in a quest for racial equality, King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington in August 1963 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

"Dreamers may die," Wiley said, "but dreams live on."

In addition to remembering the life of sacrifice of the iconic civil rights leader, the breakfast ceremony also honored local activists for their service to the community.

News12 news director Janine Rose served as mistress of ceremonies and the community center's executive director, Jim Bostic, commended each of the morning's speakers and honored guests.

Among the honorees were Andrea Clark Brown, the acting president of the Yonkers branch of the NAACP, and Perstine "Harry" Wesley, the proprietor of Harry's Shoe Store in Getty Square.

Wesley, whose shoe store has thrived for more than 50 years, received the event's Community Service Award for developing a wide variety of community events, including holiday food drives to benefit families in need. On Oct. 23, Mayor Mike Spano awarded him ceremonial keys to the city and declared that day in his honor. Friends and dignitaries on Monday referred to Wesley as a friend, mentor, community leader and father figure.

"There are people who talk a lot about what should happen, what we should do, how we should do it -- they're good at that. They're experts at talking," Bostic said. "Mr. Wesley is an expert at doing."

Music played a central role in the event. After a performance by the Yonkers-based Upshaw Ensemble chorus, the Kingdom Christian Cultural Center's Jacqueline Johnson led the room in performing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and the cultural center's the Rev. Bryan Allen brought down the house with a rousing rendition of gospel singer Donnie McClurkin's "Stand."

"Tell me what do you give when you've given your all, seems like you can't make it through," sang Allen, who brought the audience to its feet. "You just stand when there's nothing left to do. You just stand, watch the Lord see you through. Yes, after you've done all you can, you just stand."

"It is a great day," Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino told attendees. "What would Dr. King have said if he knew that after his death, so many people of so many diverse backgrounds would be gathering in so many places to pay tribute to him?"

The breakfast was one of many events throughout the Hudson Valley on Monday to honor King. Other celebrations included an interfaith worship service at Peekskill Middle School, a ceremonial breakfast at the Thomas H. Slater Center in White Plains, a Spring Valley High School event featuring "The Voice" winner and Monroe native Jermaine Paul and an observance at the Desmond-Fish Library in Garrison.

In addition, the African American Men of Westchester's 12th annual Youth Legacy Awards was held at the Tarrytown DoubleTree. Luncheon honorees included Imani Smith, who received the Spirit of Love award for traveling to Ghana to help build a school for children in need.

Yonkers resident Lakisha Prince, 33, said she was moved by the prayers and speeches at the Nepperhan Community Center.

"I was crying," Prince said. "I really felt the powerful vibe because I know all the people here. This is my community."

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