PORTLAND — Speakers at the 37th annual dinner observing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday urged the public to carry on his legacy.
A recommendation for renaming a city site in King’s honor, meanwhile, could be made this spring after several years of trying to develop a proposal acceptable to the public and the City Council.
The dinner at Holiday Inn by the Bay, sponsored by the city chapter of the NAACP, featured keynote speaker Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project.
Mauer called for an end to mass incarcerations, which he called racially biased and a waste of resources.
“We need to have a public conversation and a public commitment to treat everyone’s child as our child,” Mauer said.
The dinner observed the 50th anniversary of King’s death with a theme of “The Color and Cost of Justice,” and included opening remarks from independent Maine U.S. Sen. Angus King.
King was followed by a presentation on the nature of power by children of the Portland Housing Authority Student Centers, and comments by Christina Richardson of the Theater Ensemble of Color on the injustices at Malaga Island.
In 1912, the mixed-race community on the island near Phippsburg was evicted by the state. Some people were institutionalized, and the remains of those buried on the island were disinterred. Govs. John Baldacci and Paul LePage have apologized for the state’s actions.
Tributes were also paid to the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. Dr. King was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968, while supporting the strikers.
Mauer was introduced by Andrea James, executive director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. James, who also served two years in a federal prison for a wire fraud conviction, also called for criminal justice reforms.
“If you have ever had the experience of … sleeping on a prison bunk and hearing the moan of a woman at 3 a.m. separated from her children, it is something you will never forget,” she said.
Also on Monday, City Councilor Pious Ali said he expects the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recognition Task Force he leads to make a recommendation in March or April to the council Sustainability & Transportation Committee.
Ali said he will ask councilors to extend the task force deadline to May 31, from Dec. 31, 2017. He also said the task force will be reduced from nine to seven members.
The reduced size will make it easier to have a quorum at meetings, Ali said.
A similar task force was formed in 2008, under former Councilor Dan Skolnik , but no action was taken on its work.
Last year, Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, chairman of the Sustainability & Transportation Committee, suggested renaming Franklin Street for King.
The proposal was endorsed by the committee, but was criticized by the public during a hearing at the end of February because of how the widening of Franklin Street almost 50 years ago cut a swath through neighborhoods and displaced residents.
Ali said the task force has been considering Portland Landing, on the waterfront in what will become Amethyst Park; North Street at Fort Sumner Park, and a portion of the redesigned Congress Square. He said the task force would also reach out to the Friends groups who look out for the parks before making any recommendations.
“(The site) has to reflect different backgrounds of people, to be educational and visible, meaningful and connected to Portland community,” he said.
Ali also noted the task force recommendations do not have to be accepted by the Sustainability & Transportation Committee.
Andrea James, advocating the end of incarceration for women, speaks Monday at the annual dinner at Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland observing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.