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Local civil rights leaders honored

One day after the nation observed the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination honored the civil rights efforts of Massachusetts citizens yesterday at the State House.

The commission handed out eight awards to citizens in a celebration praising King’s work.

“These are difficult times for the state and the nation, which is why it is important to look at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ideas and values,” said Abner Mason, chief secretary of the Office of the Governor. “These values and ideas were attacked by the terrorists, so we have a lot more work to do to make Dr. King’s dream a reality.

“In Massachusetts there is a long tradition of people giving of themselves; it is not only alive and well, but a long part of our state’s history,” she said.

The commission spoke about its recent efforts in promoting civil rights, which have increased since the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The attacks on the World Trade Center make our work international,” said MDAC Chairwoman Dorca Gomez. “Sept. 11 and the deep recession has made us have to make some hard decisions to keep our main goals, but we worked through it.”

MDAC Director of Training Rebecca Shuster also highlighted the MDAC’s new works with respect to Sept. 11.

“Since Sept. 11, there has been a heightened discrimination against Arabs, Middle Easterns and Muslims,” she said. “There have been 1,400 possible hate crimes and acts of discrimination across the country, 26 of which occurred in Massachusetts.”

Gomez said she received “immediate response” from the governor, who started a zero tolerance policy concerning racism and discrimination after Sept. 11.

“I believe that Dr. King would be saddened by the events on Sept. 11,” Gomez said. “And the MDAC is dedicated to continuing the ideas of Dr. King.”

“These events leave us saddened and disturbed because rage is misdirected to innocent human beings,” Shuster said. “These events also remind us of Dr. King’s visions, since injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Shuster presented the Islamic Society of Boston with a “Special Sept. 11 Education Award” for creating an outreach center in response to discrimination against Muslims in the Commonwealth.

“Since Sept. 11, the ISB has given 350 presentations for local schools, churches, synagogues, etc. This takes enormous courage,” Shuster said. “They found ignorance and sometimes open hostility, but they defied bigotry by meeting prejudice face to face.”

Former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke received the Commissioner’s Award for his Brooke’s Scholars program, which sponsors high school juniors and allows them to study with MDAC during the summer.

Dr. Kamal Hassan Ali, the vice president of the African Muslim Society, won the Civil Rights Award for being a “living example of putting heart and head together,” said Cynthia A. Tucker, MDAC commissioner.

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