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PORTLAND — They may have been slowed by snow, but the several hundred people gathered Monday morning to celebrate the birthday of slain civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were energized and cheerful.
The 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration, hosted by the Portland chapter of the NAACP, was held at the Holiday Inn by the Bay a day before America’s first black president was set to take office – a fact not lost on speakers or the crowd of more than 700.
Rachel Talbot-Ross, president of the Portland chapter, urged the crowd to heed Dr. King’s message and continue to fight against economic and social injustice. She said President Barack Obama did not get where he is today without those who fought King’s fight.
“We must stand on the shoulders of everyone who came before us,” Talbot-Ross said, urging the crowd to “take what we feel and what we know and translate that into action.”
Talbot-Ross and others in attendance had to leave the breakfast early to catch a plane bound for Washington, D.C., and Tuesday’s inauguration.
The breakfast featured several local and state leaders, and also youth leaders. Casco Bay High School student Marcy Angelo and Deering High student Khadar Abbas served as emcees for the event, and Kaleb Titherington of the NAACP Youth Council gave introductory remarks.
The students’ participation in the event was noted by keynote speaker Dr. Marc Lamont Hill.
“To have the youth respond in such a way,” he said. “That is magnificent.”
Hill, 30, is an associate professor at Temple University who is regarded as a “hip-hop intellectual.” He provides regular commentary to national news outlets and is a political contributor for Fox News, and grew up in Philadelphia.
He urged the crowd to remain committed to fighting for social and economic equality. Of Obama’s inauguration Hill said, “How could you not be excited about that? How can you not be inspired by that?”
But he also he doesn’t want people “to be that excited that often.”
“We cannot celebrate too early,” Hill said. “We still have mass suffering.”
He said Americans must not lose sight of important lessons from its past – not just the often-recalled lessons of Dr. King, but also his struggles and the ugly events. He said the older generation should remember and share, for example, that King was kept off the Morehouse College board of trustees because members believed his arrest record made him a bad influence on young people. He noted that King died “an enemy of the state.”
“Listen carefully and remember truthfully,” Hill said. “We are often unwilling to acknowledge the past.”
Hill also talked about hope, and how the word does not mean simple optimism, but believing in individual responsibility and knowing that “I do not have to be what I am now.”
Those who believe people cannot move forward, he said, are “haters.” He challenged the crowd to move beyond despite the naysayers.
“We can move beyond the hate,” he said.
Willie O’Ree, known as the Jackie Robinson of the National Hockey League, was also a special guest at the breakfast. O’Ree, of California, was the first black person to play in the NHL when he took to the ice as a Boston Bruin in 1958.
He played professional hockey for 21 years and is now the director of Youth Development for the NHL. O’Ree dropped the ceremonial puck at the Portland Pirates game Monday afternoon.
Michael Barriault photo
An audience estimated at 700 people listens Monday to keynote speaker Dr. Marc Lamont Hill at the 28th Portland NAACP Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast. Seated in the foreground is Deering High School student Khadar Abbas, who helped emcee the event at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.