By Jennifer L. Warren
HUDSON VALLEY – The challenges are greater than ever. Whether it is an unforgiving Pandemic, mounting civil unrest, or a riveting assault at the heart of our democracy at the Nation’s Capitol, our country stands at a pivotal moment in time, making this year’s celebration and remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. perhaps more relevant than ever.
And despite crowds unable to come together in person to celebrate his legacy, diligent and creative methods were used throughout the country to still achieve that critically imperative end. One of those extremely popular and long-standing unions that prevailed Monday via the ingenuity of Zoom, along with powerfully dedicated members, was the Black History Committee of the Hudson Valley’s Annual MLK Celebration; this year carrying the theme: Building Our Beloved Community. Over 50 guests virtually joined the six hour, multi-faceted program, keeping alive a precious segment at the heart of Newburgh.
“We’re so happy everyone came here today to be a part of this Celebration,” said veteran Black History Committee of the Hudson Valley and MLK Day President Sister Sadie Tallie as she welcomed in participants. “We want to continue to celebrate on the federal holiday and all of the doors Dr. King opened, and we all continue to benefit from.”
Following Tallie’s greeting, the day’s host, Satina Williams, joined in from Maryland, expressing how happy she was to be a part of this continuing Newburgh tradition, seeing so many familiar faces. After showing a moving youth singing rendition of the Negro National Anthem (joined in on by Zoom participants) to get the program going, Williams added, “When we hear that song, it just makes you want to be a better person.”
Following the lead of the man who they were paying tribute to, many were visibly motivated to be more and do more. All the while, each spoke of the powerful lessons and still very much alive messages that Dr. King dedicated his life to ensuring are heard and see happen.
“We have been challenged as a people in 2021; the question could now be asked: Where do we go from here,” said Bishop Terry Dorsey, who emphatically repeated the iconic phrase, ‘Let freedom ring!’ “Dr. King’s vision is a global one; we must continue Dr. King’s non-violence, which is for the courageous, and walk toward freedom.”
A panel discussion, led by Tiombe Tallie Carter, then took place. During this time, several pressing community issues were discussed. Reverend Nelson McAllister spoke of the many challenges his church was confronted with when reopening during the Pandemic. Although getting the facility sanitized was a lot of work, the real hurdles laid outside of the church.
“We haven’t been able to go to hospitals to bless people; when you see people hurting, your heart really feels it,” explained McAllister. “The real challenge has been when you see someone who is in despair, you can’t give them a hug.”
The lively and productive panel discussion also included discourse on police and community relations in Newburgh. Talk of how to deal with those who are mentally ill and poorly handled by untrained police, mandates from Governor Cuomo on communities coming up with new policing policies by the spring, and microaggressions in racism were also discussed.
“Racism is not going to go away just because you say so,” affirmed Carter regarding police relations and getting people involved in joining local task forces, while contributing to the formation of new policies. “You have to fight for it.”
The new reality of education and the impact it has had on our youth, families, and communities was yet another topic on the afternoon’s schedule. Five educators contributed their various experiences, trying to best navigate the new virtual world of learning. The importance of making reading and basic skills a priority was emphasized as was equal access to needed technology and safe, quiet learning spaces. And it wasn’t just academics that surfaced.
“I’m more concerned than anything about the mental health of children today,” said teacher Shawna Newkirk-Reynolds. “Every student comes from a different environment, and I really began to see this reality when we went on-line.”
Finally, a Build-Share segment took place, where information and resources within the community were shared in different forums. It was a full day devoted to working together (adults as well as youth), trying to understand the complexities of the issues from different perspectives while developing peaceful, respectful and fair ways to solve the assortment of challenges that face not only Newburgh, but this country. Most would agree: It would have made Martin Luther King, Jr. proud.