Mary-Jo Griffin, the Director of Community Affairs at Middlesex Community College, shared this account of today’s “Celebrating the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” event which was organized by The Lura Smith Fund of the Middlesex Community College Foundation and was held at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.
Folks may not know it but it was Lura Smith, Assistant to the President at Middlesex Community College, who worked tirelessly with then Congressman Marty Meehan to name the street that leads to the Tsongas Center Martin Luther King Way. Both Smith and Meehan fully understand the historic accomplishments of Martin Luther King and of Paul Tsongas and appreciate the appropriateness of a street named for King bringing crowds of people to a lively venue named for Tsongas.
And today Lura Smith continued to keep the halls of the Tsongas Center humming at her annual Celebration of the Life of Martin Luther King. Her first King event was in 1999 with a small group of just 50 people who gathered at the MCC Nesmith House. Today’s 17th anniversary was dedicated to retiring Middlesex Community College President Dr. Carole Cowan and welcomed over 200 people from throughout the Merrimack Valley to the front foyer of the Tsongas Center. It was also the first opportunity for Lowell to meet and hear from incoming president Dr. James Mabry who said he is looking forward to being a part of the Lowell community.
Lura meticulously chooses the music, the speakers, the food and the decor to ensure the most uplifting two-hours you will spend all year. The celebration was emceed by Bobby and Aleksandra Tugiyele, Bobby of the Lowell Community Health Center and Aleksandra of the Acre Family Day Care. They welcomed the crowd with warm greetings setting the tone of love, tolerance and encouraging all to be proactive in making a difference in our community.
Being a musician herself, Lura never fails to assemble the most inspiring selections. Today was no exception with The Ron Murphy Quintet, the Eastern Massachusetts Gospel Choir, directed by Linda Brown San Martin, as well as the talents of David Dubinsky, Doug Leaffer, Henri Smith and Lowell’s Don Ouellette. The voices and instruments filled the hall and flowed throughout the reception from beginning to end.
Another unique feature is the elevating dance performances that are weaved into the program. The renowned Angkor Dance Troupe who recently performed at Governor Baker’s Inauguration coupled with the introduction of Rady Mom (the newly elected representative from the 18th Middlesex District and the first Cambodian-American in the country to serve as a state representative) enriched the theme of civility and tolerance that Dr. King gave his life fighting for. And the Donna Miceli Dance Group performed a moving rendition of the Lion King.
The highlight of the day is the presenting of the Living the Dream Award. This year’s recipient was Umass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan. Lura chose an engraved clock for the award because she says it represents the time that a person is willing to give.
The crowd seems to get bigger each year, and the number of young people increases each year as well. The Paul Sullivan Leadership Institute of MCC has been ambassadors at the event for the past eight years. And many come back year after year, beyond graduation. Mayor Dan Rivera of Lawrence, who presented a citation from that city to Chancellor Meehan, spent much of his time speaking to many of the students, giving them business cards and offering his them help with anything they might need (including internships in the Mayor’s office!). The youth also played a role on center stage with a special presentation from several young adults who belong to the Lowell Boys and Girls club. Each had the opportunity to speak to how they feel Dr. King’s legacy has made a difference their lives.
And we can’t forget the food, supplied by Anna Jabar of La Boniche, which included all of Lura’s hometown New Orleans favorites including fresh shrimp, black-eyed peas, Jambalaya and corn bread! Although we welcome the Bishop’s to the City, we will surely miss Anna!
All the proceeds from the day’s event support the Lura Smith Family Scholarship at Middlesex Community College. This event is held each year on Martin Luther King Day. Please consider attending next year.