By Chao Wang
The celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life began on his actual birthday last night at the historic Strand Theater in Dorchester, where Mayor Thomas Menino hosted Boston’s 20th annual tribute to the civil rights leader.
Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks, former executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), discussed his support for the values instilled by King, and encouraged participation in civil rights organizations.
Throughout his charismatic address, Hooks encouraged the audience to enlist in the NAACP to support the promotion of equality for all people. He suggested that Martin Luther King Jr. Day be a day of not only celebration, but a day of working toward progress in equality.
‘We have come a long way,’ he said. ‘But we have a long road ahead.’
He encouraged all who find King an inspiration to ‘do something that will help you to remind you of what he did.’
After being elected the first black judge of Shelby Country Criminal Court in Memphis, Tenn. in 1966, Hooks resigned his position to join King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a member of the board of directors. He participated in restaurant sit-ins and other protests during the civil rights movement.
During his years directing the NAACP, Hooks stressed the promotion of affirmative action and for increasing minority voter registration. He reemphasized these issues during his address, condemning President Bush’s recent request of the Supreme Court to overturn affirmative action at the University of Michigan.
In his opening address, Menino drew parallels between the Civil Rights movement and the current situation between the United States and Iraq, as well as the recently announced budget cuts.
‘Despite the budget crunch, this is still about people,’ he said. ‘Bottom lines are important, but I do not serve the bottom line.’
Menino also emphasized Boston’s diversity.
‘Boston is a minority-majority city,’ he said. ‘For us to be successful, we have to have opportunity for everyone.’
Menino also noted the many ‘firsts’ in the government who were present at the event, including Feliz D. Arroyo, the first Latino City Councilor in Boston; and Senator Dianne Wilkerson, the first African-American woman in the Senate.
Charles Dawson, a World War II and Korean War veteran, as well as a member of the NAACP, said he was delighted by the tribute.
‘I knew [King] personally,’ he said. ‘He was a pastor at my church when I was a boy, and my mother had him over for dinner.’
Indira Alvarez, a member of the tribute’s planning committee, said she plans to spend the holiday educating her two children on the history of the civil rights struggle. A native of Panama, Alvarez said she is grateful to be reminded of the contributions King made to society.
‘Because of him, I can walk wherever I want in the streets,’ she said. ‘I can get any job I want to get.’
Senator Wilkerson agreed that King was an educator, most importantly by setting an example through his own life.
‘We celebrate his life not because of what he said, but because of what he did,’ she said.