More than 1,000 people crammed into the Hynes Convention Center to observe the 40th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial breakfast and hear numerous speakers urge those in attendance to become more active in their communities.
The panel of guests at this year’s event included Attorney General Martha Coakley, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forrey, Mayor Thomas Menino and Martin Luther King III, the son of the slain civil rights leader.
Rev. Dr. Teresa L. Fry Brown, an associate professor at Emory University’s Chandler School of Theology and a scholar of the Black Church, delivered the keynote speech and called people to action.
“We spend a lot of time dreaming and not doing,” she said. “Dreams are wonderful, but we have to wake up and act. We should stop sitting around and do something, not for the whole world, but maybe just for the person next to you.”
During her address, Brown was critical of modern-day behavior and explained that Dr. King was a “transformative non-comformist.”
“We are stuck in a 21st century cave experience,” she said. “In this cave, too often people fail to develop new ideas, and often we [turn] to electronics and social media for human interaction — in addition to a common excuse that ‘my dog ate my activism.’ It is in this cave that people lose the ability to act and create social change.”
A large applause was given to Martin Luther King III, who noted that Boston was his late father’s second home. “My parents began their romance here as students,” King said. “So had they not been here, I may not have been here.”
Mayor Menino echoed King’s remarks, noting that Boston is a diverse city of neighborhoods, and even though people have different cultural backgrounds, “we share one common belief in equality for all citizens through the inspiration of Dr. King,” Menino said.
Ron Bell, a community activist on leave of absence from Gov. Deval Patrick’s staff, was also in attendance. Bell pointed out that Gov. Patrick signed an education reform bill that is designed to close the achievement gap among black and white students across the state.
“It’s symbolic of the fact that the governor signed the education reform bill today,” Bell said. “It is definitely a breakthrough in our educational system. Today is certainly a continuation of Massachusetts leading the country on social issues, as well as other matters that positively affect people’s lives.”
Boston At-Large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley was equally humbled by her recent victory that saw her become the first African American woman elected to the city council.
“I am very humbled by my victory, but I am even more proud of the city,” Pressley said.
Pressley described one moment that occurred during the campaign when she realized that actions speak louder than words. It was during the Caribbean Carnival and she was walking down Blue Hill Avenue when a several young girls greeted her and asked if they could walk with her.
It was then, Pressley said, that she realized that she had already won. “If we don’t do anything else right,” she said she thought to herself. “We’ve already won. For my afro-centric name being displayed on Blue Hill Avenue in prominent way showed the girls that was something positive within themselves.”
At another observance, Gov. Patrick served as the keynote speaker at the Yawkey Boys and Girls Club in Roxbury.
Boston public school children showcased their interpretations of what Dr. King’s dream through song, poetry and readings of his works.
Perhaps the most direct representation of King’s efforts — and the civil rights movement — was a group of “freedom marchers” ranging from ages 5 to 12, who marched into the auditorium chanting, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around! Gonna keep on walking — keep on talking — living in a brand new world,” while holding picket signs displaying phrases that were popular during the movement such as “I am a Man” and “We demand an end to bias now!”
Gov. Patrick was genuinely moved by the presentations. “I am positive that I would not be here today were it not for Martin Luther King, nor would we have an African American president,” Patrick said. “Dr. King showed so many people to look up instead of down ... [and] his message expands both race and time.”