During this time of hardship, Newton residents must come together not only to help themselves but to help the people of earthquake-stricken Haiti, Mayor Setti Warren told a packed crowd Monday at a citywide celebration of Martin Luther King Day.
‘‘Our brothers and sisters desperately need our help,’’ Warren said. ‘‘I encourage you to donate what you can as soon as possible.’’
Through readings, songs, and prayers, Newton’s 42d annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was a call to action that was echoed by speakers ranging from Warren to US Representative Barney Frank.
Frank opened with comments about the earthquake and its aftermath in Haiti, saying it is important to respond to the crisis. Later, he urged residents to vote in Tuesday’s Senate election.
“We cannot speak well about Dr. King one day of the year and repudiate everything he stood for in the rest of the year,” aid Frank. “Anybody who attends this ceremony today and fails to vote tomorrow has defined hypocrisy.”
Warren, who entered office Jan. 1 as Newton’s first African-American mayor, did not talk about race in his speech but about the principles that King espoused.
“As we gather here this morning to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, I believe our future as citizens as Newton and the United States and the world, is bright, filled with hope but also dominated by challenges,” said Warren. “We are, ladies and gentlemen, in many ways, at a crossroad, at the beginning of a new year and a new decade. Dr. King famously said, ‘the ultimate measure of a man or woman is not where they stand in moments of comfort but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.’”
It is a tradition to try to apply King’s actions and words to the current time, said Warren. Newton is poised to lead but is not immune to the economic challenges facing the country, he said.
“Of course we will address and tackle each one aggressively so we can be effective in municipal government, said Warren. “Our community must protect those who are most vulnerable and invest in the future.
The Rev. Brandon T. Crowley, the 23-year-old pastor of Myrtle Baptist Church, a historically African-American church in Newton, read King’s speech, “Where do we go from here?” The 1967 speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was a call to eliminate disparaties in opportunities and services between whites and blacks.
While it is not one of King’s widely read speeches, Crowley asked the audience to “listen with open hearts.”
James Marini, superintendent of Newton schools, introduced three Newton students who read essays about how King affected their lives. They were Samantha Libraty, an eighth grader at Bigelow Middle School; Michael Razis, a seventh-grader at F.A. Day Middle School; and Courtney Leahy, a sophomore at Newton North High School.
The celebration was not with out music. The Love Tones, a male quartet from Myrtle Baptist Church, performed “War” and “People get ready.” The Newton All-City Honors Chorus Treble Singers and the Newton South High School Harambee Gospel Choir, along with Love Tones, closed the ceremony with “We Shall Overcome,” as many members of the audience held hands and sang out.
Caitin Castello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.