Portland celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. takes global focus

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PORTLAND — From the expanse of a dining room at Holiday Inn by the Bay to distant global shores, the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was celebrated Monday.

The 35th annual celebration organized by the city chapter of the NAACP took on an international focus as University of Maine Law School Dean Danielle M. Conway reflected on King’s speech in opposition to the Vietnam War in her keynote address.

The theme of this year’s celebration was “The Global Struggle for Freedom.”

Conway called the speech “a radical departure” from King’s efforts to end discrimination in America, but a necessary speech because “these actions abroad would create mayhem at home.”

Among the speakers Monday were Maine Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Waldo; Maine House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick; Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling; U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and independent U.S. Sen. Angus King.

Conway asked the audience to step forward as Martin Luther King Jr. had done and “speak powerfully when one knows one will be alone … to eradicate the loneliness of authenticity.”

She noted the renewed effort must include economic justice and equality of opportunity in education, adding King had preached against the emergence of businesses over the rights of people.

King Middle School Students sing at Portland celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. from Sun Media on Vimeo.

While praising students and educators attending the dinner, Conway called for education that recognizes and embraces the basic differences and backgrounds of students.

“If they are going to unseat us, we must train them.” she said.

Sen. King drew from his experience attending the August 1963 rally where the civil rights leader delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and an invitation to speak at the 50th anniversary celebration of the speech in 2013.

He recalled arriving in 1963 and seeing smaller “rivulets” of people “that finally came together in a river of joyous people,” converging on The Mall for the rally.

Strimling also spoke on the themes of social and economic justice, and said he was proud to take part.

“It was a great honor, I was on the NAACP board for five years,” Strimling said. This event reminds us of what Portland is all about.”

Pingree noted the global aspects will be localized as more people emigrate to Maine.

“We are going to need new people and they are going to come from other countries,” she said.

The program was emceed by Billale Fulli, a junior at Deering High School, and Mary Kanda, a senior at Portland High School. The evening also featured a short documentary of children from public housing at Riverton, Sagamore Village and Kennedy Park reading poetry and rapping about their dreams and aspirations.

Students from King Middle School sang “Ella’s Song,” by Sweet Honey in the Rock.

The dinner capped a weekend of events, including a Merrill Auditorium concert Jan. 15 and youth summit at the University of Southern Maine on Jan. 16.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Students from King Middle School in Portland perform Monday at the 35th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday celebration at Holiday Inn by the Bay.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.