On Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, the people celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. For some that means a day off from school, for others it is a memory from high school history, but for Mary Hunter, 92, today is a symbol of change.
In Bangor, Maine, the city celebrated King with foods and dances from around the world. There were even crafts to try and The Name Jar discussion. The children’s book The Jar is about a little girl, named Unhei, who moved from her home country of Korea, to the new world of the United States. She wants to change her name to fit in better with the other students in her school.
The keynote speaker of Dr. King’s day of celebration was Hunter, who told of a life in the segregated South during the 20s and 30s. The focus of her speech, however, was the change King worked toward. Hunter’s late husband, John, grew up in Georgia. There, schools, churches, and other places chose to keep black and white people separated.
As children, the Hunters were taught to accept things the way they were, “Black, you stay back. Whites, you go forward,” were the words Mary’s mother burned into her mind. Dr. King’s words still had an impact on her life. She is still growing, as she spends time with people of various races. The Hunters moved to Maine in 1952.
She said, when Dr. King presented himself, it seemed he did not appreciate the idea of segregation. He started talking about integration. She remembers thinking, the things he said put him in danger and is family too. “He was killed, not just for his own race but for all to be equal, to get an education and have opportunities.” Hunter said that was Dr. King’s legacy; equality and opportunity.
Hunter said the South was not safe for black people. Her parents tried to protect her as much as they were able. She said in 1963, Dr. King made a statement that still holds true today. The statement, was that “one of his hopes for the world, that his four children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” She told the crowd that it was up to the young people to carry on Dr. King’s legacy and make that dream happen.
Orono, Maine, on the University of Maine campus, 250 people gathered to enjoy breakfast and discuss what still needs to be done for Dr. King’s dream to come to fruition. The president of the Bangor NAACP Michael Alpert, said they share reasons to be optimistic and also concerned.
The keynote speaker, Alison Beyea, is the director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. She reflected on 2015, and all the pain and blood that ran through the streets. There were the deaths of Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, which made people feel angry, sad, and accountable. The beginnings of the stirrings of Dr. King’s words.
Beyea said that Governor LePage’s comments, about drug dealers and white girls, are the kinds of things people say to create a feeling of violence that during Dr. King’s time, got black men arrested. Today, it gets black men shot. She referred to this back-handed trend as “coded racism.” She wanted all the people who would hear her voice or read her words to understand that what happens in other cities matters to the people in Bangor and around the country.
She also discussed how race has a role in the Maine school system. The Maine ACLU wants to make sure minority students are being treated in a fair manner, not struggling with disadvantages, due to race or color, especially in more diverse areas of Maine. Seeing that, Dr. King’s words continue to work.
Beyea read data from a school district with 25 percent black students. Half of all suspensions claimed the involvement of a black student and all students that had been expelled from that school were black. She did not give the name of the district, however, it coincides with the 2011 data from the Lewiston School District. According to the federal data from Lewiston, there were four students expelled and 973 suspended.
During the festivities, surrounding the ideals of Dr. King, chemistry and international affairs student Antonia Carroll, received the Dorothy Clarke Wilson Peace Writing Prize Award for a poem she wrote, Still Stirring. The poem addresses the importance to continue to find an end to racism; bring Dr. King’s dream to fruition. She says people need to keep stirring so racism is at the front of the line concerning national discussions.
Also, she referred to a class survey that stated, 39 students out of 52, did not believe that racism was an issue at the University of Maine, and seven of the 52 students believed racism is not a concern in the United States. Carroll brought up current issues, such as transgendered people being mistreated, the new term, Islamophobia, as a racist connotation, and finding equality for minorities is still a struggle. Dr. King wanted equality for all.
Why do we keep stirring?
Because this is the status quo
And the status quo must change
And because an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.
We have to keep stirring
Because our black classmates
Our Muslim teammates
Our transgender friends
They are sitting on the bottom of the pot
and they’re burning.”
If you really ‘celebrated diversity’
You would keep stirring
Because progress for one person
Is progress for every person
And I know
and I know
you’re so tired
but we can’t stop now
and we can’t do it alone.
By Jeanette Smith
Bangor Daily News: MLK Day speaker from Bangor recalls growing up in segregated South
Bangor Daily News: MLK Day speakers at UMaine: More to be done to stem racism
Image Courtesy of Matt Lemmon’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License