By Ling-Mei Wong
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King was honored with poems, dances and live music at the 26th memorial luncheon Jan. 11 at the Massachusetts Statehouse.
Several public officials attended the luncheon, including black, Latino and Asian representatives.
“I love the diversity in this room. I think it is so reflective of what Coretta Scott King wanted,” said Leverett Wing, vice chair of the Governor’s Asian American Commission and associate director of the Division of Community Services for the Department of Housing and Community Development. “Whether you are Caucasian or African American, you are part of the great dream Dr. Martin Luther King had.”
Wing is the first Chinese American to speak at the luncheon and spoke about being a minority. When he was an intern at the Statehouse, the only person of color was Sen. Bill Owens. There were no elected Asian American officials and Wing was the only staffer who was Asian American.
“There were only a handful of people of color, which showed in the attitudes of some people,” Wing said. “During my first month at the Statehouse, it was casual Friday. I was in a dress shirt, casual slacks and shoes. Someone stuck her head out the door and said, ‘Can you make sure our floor gets vacuumed?’ Being young and abrasive, I said, ‘I’m not a bleepin’ cleaning person,’ and walked away.”
Wing became an advocate for greater representation and equal access. “The poverty rates for Asian Americans, African Americans and Hispanics are higher than the general population,” he said. “For subgroups in the Asian community, such as Vietnamese and Cambodians, the poverty rate is 30 percent. Issues like these affect all of us. We’re all in this fight together.”
Rep. Gloria Fox of the 7th Suffolk district spoke about her involvement with the memorial luncheon over its 26 years and recognized Boston Councilor at-large Felix Arroyo for attending. She also urged Wing to join the black and Latino caucus.
“To Brother Wing, we have three Asian Americans in the House of Representatives, and nine of us are black and Latino,” Fox said. “We are a mighty posse.”
Fox encouraged attendees to live King’s legacy.
“I’ve been detained,” Fox said. “It wasn’t jail but I was chained to a bench outside the cell. I paid my dues in the ’60s with a big afro to fulfill Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of peace.”
Students from the Boston Community Leadership Academy sang “Lift Every Voice” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”
Bessie Robinson, a Martin Luther King Committee member, led the opening prayer. “I just want to thank God for letting us be here today,” she said.
Tara Murphy, director and dancer with the Cape Cod African Drum and Dance Group, spoke about her family’s experience with desegregation in 1957. “My mother is an African American woman who grew up in the South in ’40s and ’50s. She attended the first integrated class at Sherwood High,” she said. “I can’t imagine the courage that took my mother as a teenager. … My mother is my greatest hero.”
The Cape Cod African Drum and Dance Group led the crowd in a rousing dance with live percussion. Poet Teisha Brown read a poem about King’s example and his effect on her life
Ray Fuller of Morning Star Baptist Church sang a song on standing firm despite life’s trials. In high school, he skipped class to hear King speak.
“When I look back to where I was and where I am today, I realize if it had not been for him, I wouldn’t have finished high school,” Fuller said. “I would have been a statistic but he changed my life.”
At the end of the program, attendees sang “We Shall Overcome” to commemorate King. The annual memorial luncheon takes place before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the third Monday in January or Jan. 21 this year. King was born Jan. 15, 1929.
Captions: Dancers from the Cape Cod African Drum and Dance Group perform at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Luncheon on Jan. 11.
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