Rev. Michael Williams said that he’s grown weary of people taking a stand and coming together only when the darkness descends.
Citing relatively recent tragedies such as 9/11 and the devastation in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, Williams said that people’s generosity and ability to pull together was obvious when the need was seemingly the greatest - when the “lights are out.”
Williams noted, however, Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which criticized white moderates and white churches for claiming to stand with the civil rights cause, but stood idly by or urged King to wait for integration.
Williams said that King saw those moderates and white church leaders, not the Ku Klux Klan and other people who fought against integration, as the biggest problem.
“You know where [the Clan and other people who stood against integration] stood,” Williams said.
At West Hartford’s 18th annual celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Williams - the keynote speaker and deputy commissioner of the state’s Department of Children and Families - noted the tension generated by the holiday: lauding the work of one of America’s great heroes, while also shining a light on the vast amount of work that still needs to be done to achieve King’s vision of harmony and peace.
The light is currently on, Williams said. What are people doing to take a stand for the the rights of minorities, the disabled, the economically disadvantaged and military veterans, Williams asked.
Justice, according to Williams, means more than “just us.”
Williams, channeling King’s message in his Birmingham jail letter, said that an injustice in Bloomfield or Newington affects people in West Hartford. An injustice in Connecticut affects people in Washington, D.C.
The celebration also included a special appearance by attorney John Doar, the father of Town Councilor Burke Doar and recipient of the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
John Doar was assistant attorney general for civil rights with the U.S. Department of Justice in the 1960s and met King on several occasions.
Doar noted that in a county in Mississippi, he was successful in getting just three black residents out of a potential 6,500 eligible voters to sign affidavits telling of their experiences of being barred from registering to vote because of poll taxes, literacy tests and other barriers.
The goal was to “break the curse on American society” that was racial discrimination, Doar said.
King, John Doar said, was subsequently able to stand in a Mississippi town square and call on black residents, who were fearful of retribution from white farmers and merchants, to register to vote. More than 150 people registered on that day, John Doar said.
In addition to hearing living history, the 400 or so who were in attendance got the opportunity to listen to two people who may someday make history.
Conard High’s Henley Solomon and Hall junior Stacy-Ann Wallen both gave moving speeches about King’s legacy.
Solomon said that he would like to take up King’s cause, while Wallen said that she is a testimony of King’s work, as a Hartford resident who attends West Hartford public schools as a result of the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill lawsuit.Musical performances included selections from the Sedgwick Sounds, the Conard High Jazz Combo and the Conard High School Voices of the World Choir