PLATTSBURGH — Turn to your neighbor, said Tom Bull, and tell them: It's a good day, and you matter.
That's the type of small but forceful love Bull and others called for Monday at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration.
"It was a human being turning to you and looking you in the eye," rather than a bumper-sticker message, Bull said, explaining how such action can resonate with people.
The gathering, sponsored by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and held at Blessed John XXIII College Community Newman Center, filled the church with visitors honoring King's life and his principles of social justice.
Practicing what the speakers preached, the crowd stood, sang and clapped throughout to gospel songs and readings.
Bull, a counselor at Peru High School and the event's keynote speaker, emphasized that people don't need mass movements to effect positive change.
"I'm leaning on an expectation for us to rise up and to mobilize ourselves," he said, adding that forming an official committee to take action is unnecessary.
His message was rooted in scripture and treating others how you want to be treated. He pointed to his young daughter, who was in the crowd.
"That is your niece, and your daughter, and your aunt, and your mom," he said. "I want done to her what I will do unto you."
Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Michael Cashman, one of five political guests, illustrated that message by describing how volunteers that day had cleaned Trinity Episcopal Church's soup kitchen.
He encouraged people to make the holiday a "day on," like that group, rather than a day off.
State Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) called the area a caring community in the spirit of King. That was echoed by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro), whose remarks were read by a staffer.
"In this room, in this region, it doesn't matter where we come from because together we are making the North Country a stronger, better place," Jones said.
He added that in the face of "hateful rhetoric you might hear on TV," people must be guided by light, not darkness.
After his speech, Jones awarded King Commission member Stan Ransom a State Assembly citation for his volunteerism.
City of Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read said King is likely rolling in his grave over the lack of civility in today's discourse — a line that drew a crack of applause.
"I wish I could say we've made a lot of progress since then," Read said. "I'm not sure we can."
State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said that, in the past, she hadn't been as aware of the issues King championed as she should have been. That's the case for some in an area so far removed, she said.
"Hopefully, all of us have a little bit of him in us," she said of King.
With snowlight shining through the windows of the church, several groups sang uplifting gospel tunes that got the audience cheering.
The Voices of Faith Quartet, the MLK Community Choir and the Plattsburgh High School Select Vocal Ensemble all performed to hearty applause.
Two college students — Kyleigh Bell and Brooke Kelley — were announced as scholarship winners, and their winning essays were read. Both dealt with how King's ideals have been exemplified in environmental, LGBT and abortion-rights movements, and both offered criticism of President Donald Trump, which was applauded by audience members.
MODEL FOR HOPE
Rabbi David Kominsky, a newcomer to the region, closed the celebration.
"By the example of his life, by sharing nonviolent resistance as effective in this country," Kominsky said of King, "he provided hope to us and provides a model for us moving forward to make this world a better place."