By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – More than 1,200 people gathered at the MassMutual Center to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 21.
State Rep. Benjamin Swan, who marched with King during the 1960s civil right struggle, addressed some of his remarks specifically to the children in the audience that they “stand on the shoulders of their ancestors.”
He added, “They allowed you to be who you are.”
Swan urged the audience to accept that everyone “comes here for one purpose: to make the world a better place than it was when we arrived.”
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno noted the growth of the event, which was produced by Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, the D.R.E.A.M. Studios and the Community Music School of Springfield. He said the celebration first started at the center court of Eastfield Mall, then was presented at the Community Music School and now was standing room only at the MassMutual Center.
Sarno asked the audience for their help in curbing the two top problems of the city: poverty and public safety.
In the spirit of King’s call for community activism, Richard Johnson of the Mason Square Drug Free Coalition invited the audience to attend that organization’s meeting every other Thursday at Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services.
Steven Bradley, the vice president of Community and Government Affairs of Baystate Health Systems (BHS) that “while people are learning to own the disease of institutional racism. White folks created it. White folks benefitted from it. White folks can undo it.”
Noting the mixed-race marriage within his own family, Bradley said that BHS will do everything it can to combat racism.
The event was marked with performances by Vanessa Ford, the Freedom Choir, the Martin Luther King Family Services bucket drummers, the String City Youth Orchestra of the Community School of Springfield and D.R.E.A.M. Studios, among others.