Speakers at MLK Celebration event address history of racism and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The indoor event was the Town of Brookline MLK Celebration: Keeping the Promise on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which featured speeches and poems about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, as well efforts to hold a conversation on how to achieve racial equality in Brookline.

A flier from the management of the Coolidge Corner Theater was handed to all who entered the event, asking them not to interrupt the proceedings. The flier referred to an interruption at last year’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. event, where protestors with a sign reading Black Lives Matter got up on stage during the ceremony.

The first speaker was Brookline selectman and chair of the MLK Committee Bernard Greene. Before he introduced the program, he asked the audience members to turn their attention to the flier. He emphasized that when it came time to participate in the event it must be done with respect. He explained that the purpose of the program was to honor Dr. King’s life and his commitment to social justice.

Although three a capella groups from the high school were supposed to perform at the event, according to Greene, they withdrew their participation.

Greene concluded his remarks by speaking broadly about racism in America, then saying that “Brookline’s history carries some of that stain.”

The next speech was a tribute to civil rights activist Julian Bond made by a member of both Town Meeting and Advisory Committee Bobbie Knable. Bond, who passed away on August 15, 2015, was one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC, an organization which brought together college activists, was active during the 1960s, and played a role in the sit-ins and the Freedom Rides, mostly in the South.

Then, the lights in the theater dimmed and the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” written by James

Brookline Poetry Laureate Jan Schreiber, reads "A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes at the MLK Event held in Coolidge Corner Theatre. His deep voice carried Hughes’ words throughout the auditorium.
Petra Huang / Contributor
Brookline Poetry Laureate Jan Schreiber reads “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes at the MLK Event held in Coolidge Corner Theatre. His deep voice carried Hughes’ words throughout the auditorium.

Weldon Johnson and arranged by John Rosamond Johnson, appeared on screen. The song is considered an anthem of the civil rights movement. A handful of audience members sung along quietly in their seats.

The song was followed by remarks from  director of the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations in Brookline Lloyd Gellineau. Gellineau spoke of his own struggles connecting with the civil rights movement. He described himself as “envious” of older citizens’ direct involvement with movement during the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Gellineau said that despite this, he still felt a strong connection to Dr. King, likening him to Santa, the Pope, President Lincoln, a superhero and Gellineau himself as a child. The speech ended with Gellineau explaining that this connection to Dr. King has inspired him to be involved in his community.

The next part of the program was a series of poetry readings. The first two poems were read by Brookline poet laureate Jan Schreiber. He initially read an excerpt from “Dark Symphony” by Melvin B. Tolson, addressing White people who tell Black people to forget about their history. The line, “They tell us to forget,” was repeated multiple times during the selected passage.

The second poem Schreiber read was “Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes. Schreiber said that he considered this a response to the questions posed in “Dark Symphony”. His deep voice carried Hughes’ words throughout the auditorium.

Schreiber was followed by nationally ranked slam poet Regie Gibson, who performed an original work entitled “When They Speak Of Our Time They Will Say…” The poem discussed what will be remembered of current day by future generations, such as 9/11, race relations and police brutality, the bi-partisan divide, the war on terror, gender equality and more. He ended the performance with a wish for universal peace.

The next work came from senior Hannah Timmermann, who performed her slam poem “How to Tell Your Racist Family that You Held the Hand of a Black Boy”. The poem was in the form of a list, laying out the steps that one should take as they explain their relationship with a Black boy to loved ones who don’t see race the same way as they do. The family in the poem reacted to the described relationship in a negative way. Timmermann also referenced many of the recent race related shootings in America.

The keynote address was delivered by Brookline High School graduate and law professor at Northeastern University Susan A. Maze-Rothstein. Maze-Rothstein’s lecture, “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” was about how institutionalized racism is entrenched in our society and how it is often hard for White people to confront this reality.

Maze-Rothstein proposed using a policy called “restorative justice” to renew trust between communities who often look upon each other with suspicion. Rather than crime and punishment, Maze-Rothstein said restorative justice allows involved parties to discuss problems and come to a fair conclusion.

Knable then returned to the stage to read the poem “Revolutionary Dreams” by Nikki Giovanni.

The ceremony ended with Gellineau thanking the crowd for attending the ceremony and being part of the celebration of the life of Dr. King.