Community Joins to Recall King's Message

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have called it a "world house," according to the Rev. Walter Silva Thompson, the pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in East Hampton, where a diverse cross section of about 60 people from Southampton to Montauk came together on Monday to honor Dr. King's legacy.

The world house is a "multicultural, multi-ethnic gathering where everyone was included in understanding the concept of uniting together to make a difference in the world," Mr. Thompson said following Monday's celebration. "By bringing everyone together, we raise the consciousness of a whole nation, a whole group of people -- black, white, Asian, Hispanic, all people -- because evil and injustice and racism affect all of us."

Calvary Baptist Church honors Dr. King each year on the holiday, which is the only federal holiday designated for a leader who was not a U.S. president, according to the website nationalservice.gov, which calls for people to engage in community service activities on to honor his birthday. Lucius Ware, the president of the Eastern Long Island branch of the N.A.A.C.P., who attended Monday's ceremony, said Dr. King's supporters experienced quite a struggle working to have a day named in his honor.

"It commemorates the experience of the civil rights era and the leadership that Dr. King gave, and how his leadership has continued down through the years," Mr. Ware said. He attended multiple gatherings in King's honor between Sunday afternoon and Monday evening, including others in Riverhead, Cutchogue, Bridgehampton, and Quogue. "It's very significant for me, personally, because I know the need for all of this, especially for the youth," Mr. Ware said.

At Calvary Baptist Church's celebration, members of its youth group read from the Old Testament and the New Testament. There was music and a praise dance to the song "Glory" by John Legend and Common. The Rev. Dr. Connie Jones offered a prayer, donations were collected to support the church's M.L.K. Scholarship Program, and the combined choir led the group in song.

Inspired by Dr. King's teachings, Mr. Thompson offered a keynote address that focused on the idea of a city as both a seductive force and an intimidating place from which one should escape. He cast East Hampton as such a city, albeit a smaller one, with its own issues that need to be addressed. He called upon citizens to neither escape from nor be seduced by the city, but instead work together to confront the problems and issues that exist within a city in order to transform it into a better place for all.

"We cannot and must not take a neutral stand on the issues of crime and drugs and violence in our city," he said.

The gathering was attended by several community leaders, including East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, East Hampton Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, and Robert Tymann, an assistant superintendent in the East Hampton School District.

"It's nice to come together as the human family," Mayor Rickenbach said. "We should heed well Dr. King's message and try to live it 365 days a year."

Supervisor Cantwell said it is evident that "we have a great deal more work to do. . . . The words of Rev. Thompson here today, about doing this together as a city, as a town, is the path forward," he said.

Kim Jones of Southampton said she felt inspired by the gathering. "Hearing Reverend Thompson talk kind of sparked the energy of wanting to do something in the community."

Louis Myrick of Bridgehampton said he believed society is now in a place similar to where it was 50 to 60 years ago.

"What we're charged with today is will we uphold the message of Dr. King? Will we heed the call to action, or will we be complacent?" he said. "The conversation we have about these issues . . . we should have in the town halls."
 

The Rev. Walter Silva Thompson Morgan McGivern