I’ve attended a few of Lura Smith’s events celebrating the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. but it’s been a while since I joined the members of the Merrimack Valley NAACP for their annual MLK breakfast. Rabbi Ira Korinow of Haverhill was the MC and he set the tone for the breakfast with these words of MLK – “anybody can serve.” Baptist minister Ronald Tucker invoked the image of MLK as “a drum major for peace.”
In Lowell this year, the group received greetings from State Senator Eileen Donoghue and words of praise for the legacy of ML King from Congresswoman Tsongas through staff member Denise Johnson. Music was provided by the Recorder Choir from the Third Baptist Church of Lawrence. These twelve young people each wearing a colorful stole marched in playing and swaying to “When the Saints Go Marching In” and later played and sang “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “We Shall Overcome.” They were a delightful surprise!
The event featured Imperial Potentate Homer L. Buchanan of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine – a segment of the Masons – was their keynote speaker. The first non-clergyperson to have this role – Mr. Buchanan talked of the many slaves who contributed their knowledge, ideas, inventions, artistry – and even their lives to this country mentioning for example poet Phillis Wheatley, entrepreneur and philanthropist Madame C. J. Walker and the murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers.
Later in the program under the direction of former MVNAACP president – the Rev. Roger Sawtelle – there was a moment of silence in honor of the men and women serving in the Armed Forces. He also announced the presentation of the Samuel S. Crayton Award for Community Service to longtime MVNAACP activist member Gloria P. Johnson. Two students from UML thanked MS Johnson for her time at UMass Lowell and especially for her many years of service as Director of Minority Student Affairs. Karen Frederick, Executive Director of Community Teamwork (CTI) thanked Gloria for her guidance, wisdom and service as a board member for CTI noting the appropriateness of the award given in the name of Sam Crayton and his legacy as a founding member of Community Teamwork nearly 50 years ago. Gloria was gracious and thankful in her acceptance recalling coming here to the Valley from NYC as an elementary school teacher and her transition into the world of UMass Lowell. She recalled her friends in “Black Genesis” – a group of professional black women organized to help the community. She is a wonderful woman – now in retirement – who serves as a role model for all in the community. Fellow CTI Board member Rita O’Brien Dee and I were proud to attend and lend our voices of thanks to Gloria for her service. Also honored was Val Hillery – given the Bennie Armstrong Award for Business & Community Betterment. Val is a well-known youth mentor and equal opportunity activist. Locals may have seen her working as a volunteer at the Lowell Folk Festival in the food booths.
Among the guests were former State Senator and now Methuen city councilor Jim Jajuga, Lowell School Committee member Kristin Ross-Sitcawich, Dem candidate for LT Gov. Jonathan Edwards, members of the clergy and ladies, gentlemen and young people from across the Merrimack Valley.