by Lon Cohen |
In August 1963, it’s estimated 250,000 people took part in a march on Washington D.C., congregating at the Lincoln Memorial to bring attention to the challenges still facing African-Americans a century after emancipation.
During the peaceful protest, Martin Luther King gave his now famous “I have a dream” speech.
Another half century later, the dream is kept alive by people around the country and in local communities like Coram, where King’s principles are still being celebrated and advanced.
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On Saturday, Jan. 19, the community from the Longwood School District, including administrators, teachers, fire and police department members all joined in a one-half-mile walk from Coram Elementary School to the Coram firehouse to commemorate King and his ideals.
The cloudy skies and chilly weather did not dampen the spirits of hundreds of walkers gathered together to celebrate unity.
“I feel as if I am reliving that experience,” said Alicia Cesar of Coram, who was there with her son Allan, a West Middle Island Elementary School kindergartener. “I’m following in the footsteps on our forefathers.”
Cesar walked so her children could have the same experience and do more for the community.
“I felt like I had to do it,” she said.
Organizers used the opportunity as an educational experience through instruction, art and music.
Songs celebrating America and Martin Luther King were sung by the crowd, including Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” and Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday to ya’ (Dr. King)” during a lunch held after the walk at the Coram Fire Department station on Middle Country Road. The fire department was a sponsor of the event.
Other sponsors included the Middle Island Teachers Association (MITA) and Building Bridges in Brookhaven (BBB), a grassroots coalition seeking to cultivate friendships and alliances across the town. Food and beverages for the lunch were donated by local businesses.
“This is our chance to come together to honor Martin Luther King,” said MITA president Josephine Libassi.
Later in the afternoon, BBB hosted a teach-in examining Dr. King’s “Poor People’s Campaign of 1968” and the current “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.”
The new campaign, as described by the organization, “seeks to address the pervasive interlocking issues of systemic racism, poverty and militarism and ecological devastation.”
“If King’s principles of nonviolence were followed today we would be resolving more problems,” said Maureen Beatrice, a social worker at Longwood Middle School. Beatrice is on the planning committee for the walk. She said that attendance at this year’s walk was double the previous year, the first time the event was held.
It was estimated that over 400 people took part in the walk on Saturday.
Thomas Knott, Assistant Principal of Coram Elementary School, said that the event is a chance to get the community together to celebrate everything that the district stands for.
Artwork from students in Longwood School District was on display, all honoring some aspect of King’s movement and the effects on society.
The art ranged from King’s “I have a dream” emblazoned over the American Flag to a complex collage featuring positive messages celebrating court victories for same-sex marriage titled “Love Wins.”
“This event is so important,” said Keegan Johnson, a psychologist at Charles E. Walters Elementary School.
He said that showing unity in the community will help students be better people as a whole and give them “lifelong lessons to be the best citizens they can be.”
Keith Owens, a 45-year Gordon Heights resident and community organizer, said that the event was a change from the past.
“We didn’t have unity like this before,” said Owens.
His organization, KO Cares, works with at-risk youth in the school district’s junior high school.
Speakers and musicians reminisced about 1963’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and led the enthusiastic crowd in an inspiring version of “This Little Light of Mine.”
People clapped and sang as a band from Mt. Olive Baptist Church played behind a repetition of the lyrics, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
Sixth Precinct community liaison officer Will Zieman said the Suffolk County Police Department not only helped with logistics for the event but wanted to make sure officers were a welcome presence.
“It’s an honor to be able to work with and walk with the community and humanize the people behind the uniform,” Zieman said.
Longwood School District encompasses 56 square miles, according to Knott, and it was a huge organizational effort by a lot of people to get the community together. He said that all schools in the district were represented at the event.
Sarah Deonarine of Coram said that as a woman she felt the need to come out and be a part of the event.
“Martin Luther King is someone I look up to,” she said.
Deonarine, who was at the event with her three children, is planning to run for Brookhaven’s Council District 2 as a Democrat. She said that her kids were a part of her inspiration to walk.
“I want them to be know the past and to be proud,” she said.
Scroll down for 20 photos from Saturday by Lon Cohen. Click the 2, 3 and 4 boxes below each set to view them all.