Newton celebrates Martin Luther King Day

by Bella Ishanyan and Alex Zakuta, News Editor and News Reporter
photo courtesy of Ruthanne Fuller

On the third Monday of January each year, Americans observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day to recognize and honor King’s courage and perseverance, leadership throughout the Civil Rights Movement and beliefs in equality and human rights for all. 

This year, Newton held its annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in a Jan. 17 webinar hosted by the Harmony Foundation, Newton’s foundation for racial, ethnic and religious harmony. The celebration reflected on the city’s progress towards greater racial inclusion. 

Black Student Union Co-President Junior Gianna Burgess was one of four student speakers at the event. She said that when honoring King, it is important to recognize how far we have come and consider the next steps in achieving racial and social justice in Newton.

“It’s very important that we not only celebrate, but thank [King] because though we have progressed, we need to look at where we go from here and what we can do to continue moving forward,” she said. “The whole point [of the event] was looking at that message and seeing how that applies to today and how it really still rings true.”

The event centered around King’s final book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” Broadcasted from North’s auditorium, the event included musical performances from South METCO Counselor Katani Sumner; North’s gospel choir, The Troubadours; and a North student choir group, The Jubilees. In addition to these performances, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, Superintendent David Fleishman, Newton Public Schools Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Kathy Lopes, Assistant Pastor at Myrtle Baptist Church Reverend Alicia Johnsonand and several high school students spoke.. 

Following a video compilation of commentary from Newton Area Council members and a performance by Sumner, Fuller took the stage. She said that racism and prejudice are still alive in Newton but that she hopes to “sever the chains of discrimination” and form “a community where our varied and divergent paths don’t tear us apart, but instead bring our rich traditions together to build a better society with beauty, love and justice.”

Burgess then performed her original poem, “Changes. The streets have seen it all,” which was inspired by King’s final book. 

“[King] was highlighting the trials and tribulations of the Civil Rights Movement,” she said. “What happens here will be the deciding factor in whether or not we’ll go into chaos or whether or not we’re going to prioritize community and continue to move in a certain direction.”

Other student speakers included North seniors Tiana Lugo and Ashlynn Saint-Preux of the Monologue Project, a program in conjunction with the Newton Theater Company where students of color discuss and share personal experiences.  Saint-Preux spoke about her feelings of isolation in Newton schools and her hopes of greater inclusivity.

“What is our dream?” Saint-Preux said. “Expanding the spaces we have to more students feeling drowned out in white spaces, to make all affinity spaces feel safe enough for all of their members [and] to feel like we belong here as much as anyone else does.”

Rev. Johnson closed the event by delivering the keynote speech, a sermon in which she emphasized the importance of protecting human rights, one of King’s most notable points of advocacy.

“We live in a world struggling to breathe. … There are still those in this country who have never been able to fully expand their lungs, yet there are so many of us who hoard clean air,” she said.  “Don’t allow others to suffocate around you because you have hoarded the clean air of your gifts … but allow someone else to breathe freely again, to breathe freely possibly for the first time, because you have used your breath, your voice, your space in this world.”