PLATTSBURGH — This Martin Luther King Day, Plattsburgh City Councilor Joshua Kretser was reminded of how the civil-rights leader taught people they must work together to achieve positive change.
“Plattsburgh has been subjected to times of disappointment and adversity; however, during these times, we have found ways to put our differences aside and to come together to create what I believe to be an amazing place to live,” he told the crowd gathered at the Newman Center Monday afternoon for the annual community celebration sponsored by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.
Kretser also pointed out King’s belief that what affects one person affects everyone.
“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be,” he said, quoting the civil-rights activist.
The Ward 6 councilor then called on event attendees to continue working together to make the community “what it ought to be.”
One reason it’s important to hold such an event in honor of King, State Sen. Betty Little told attendees, is to encourage and motivate people to make a difference.
“We can improve our lives, our community and certainly our country, and I think using the example of Dr. Martin Luther King will help all of as we go forward,” she said.
In the decades since King began advocating for civil rights, progress has been made, noted Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, but the job is not done.
Minorities, including women and people of color, are still paid less in many occupations than their white male counterparts, she told the crowd.
Reports of abuse and discrimination against women in the military are at an all-time high, Duprey continued, bullying occurs in schools and workplaces, and people with mental illnesses continue to be discriminated against.
“Dr. King’s dream that all people would one day be judged not by the color of their skin but by the quality of their character still holds true today, but in his honor and legacy, we must continue to extend that dream to include all people facing discrimination,” she said.
HONORING HIS MEMORY
Similarly, Congressman Bill Owens told attendees people like King are “calling us to individual action to do better with one another, and that’s an everyday event.
“We all struggle with it, but at the end of the day, the question should be, ‘Did I do a little bit better with everybody else?’
“If we have, then we’ve honored Dr. King,” he said.
In between speakers, the crowd clapped, swayed and sang along to musical performances by the MLK Singers, including members of the SUNY Plattsburgh Gospel Choir, with piano accompaniment by Dr. Dexter Criss.
In addition, the commission announced the winners of its scholarships, which are given annually to local high-school graduates to assist them with college expenses.
Beekmantown Central School graduate Maile Sapp and Saranac Central graduate Rene Andre were selected as this year’s recipients based on essays they wrote about King’s impact on their lives.
Monday’s celebration also included readings of some of King’s famous words, moments of prayer and the recitation of a community pledge in which attendees vowed to “strive for justice and peace among all people.”
THE POWER OF PEOPLE
In the event’s keynote address, Peter Slocum, board vice president for the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, spoke of the parallels between King and South African political leader Nelson Mandela, who died last month at the age of 95.
Both men, Slocum said, had faith in the future of humanity.
“And yet it was not just faith ... that these two giants relied upon,” he noted. “They understood the importance and the value of struggle.”
But as transcendent as both men were, Slocum added, they were not alone in their efforts.
“They stood on the shoulders of thousands, of millions, of ordinary people ... who committed themselves to the struggle,” he said.
Slocum then showed attendees a preview of the four-film series “Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle,” about the many people who, together, made the civil-rights movement a reality. The films will be shown at Plattsburgh Public Library.
“I think it will be an incredibly valuable opportunity to continue thinking about and wrestling with the issues we’ve all been discussing today,” he said.
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SEE THE FILMS
The four-film series "Created Equal: America's Civil Rights Struggle," about the many people who, together, made the civil-rights movement a reality, will be shown at the Plattsburgh Public Library at 1 p.m. Feb. 1, 8, 15 and 22 and March 1.
The screenings, which will be followed by discussions about the films, are sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, Underground Railroad Historical Association, Plattsburgh Public Library and the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System.