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Trevor Narine, left, and Gabe Lewis sing "We Shall Overcome" at a Martin Luther King day event organized by Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity. (SIMON RIOS PHOTO)

In Hollis, remembering Dr. Martin Luther King

HOLLIS -- The spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. is alive and well in the Gate City, evidenced by a gathering Monday to celebrate the life and legacy of the man who exemplified peaceful protest.

The event was emceed by Talesha Canyon of New England Pentecostal Ministries. She referenced President Barack Obama, whose second inauguration took place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"We have a black president, who's now a two-term president, in this country," Canyon said. "So regardless of your political affiliation, you have to celebrate that, so celebrate with me."

The brunch at Alpine Grove in Hollis was the 29th event of its kind. The Grace Fellowship Church choir gave a riveting performance, backed by a rhythm section and their boisterous music director, Olga Tines.

Following the meal, Arnie Alpert - who heads the work of the American Friends Service Committee in New Hampshire and was instrumental in the struggle to have the day recognized in the state - spoke of the beginning and end of Dr. King's public career.

King's first major campaign was on behalf of Jeremiah Reeves, who was executed in 1958 in Alabama for rape. Alpert noted that this first campaign surrounded the death penalty.

"It had to do with what he called, 'The unequal justice of the Southern courts,' " Alpert said. "He said that, 'For good reason the negroes of the South had learned to fear and mistrust the white man's justice.' "

Alpert then asked, "How far have we come?" He said that 2.3 million people are imprisoned in the United States, "a condition that has gotten so extreme that it has been labeled mass incarceration."

Alpert said that in New Hampshire, where blacks represent 1 percent of the population, they constitute 6 percent of the prison population.

At the end of King's life, he was working with striking sanitation workers in Memphis. Alpert said the victory of those workers empowered public sector workers across the country - including in New Hampshire - to form labor unions.

He pointed to a New Hampshire Senate bill currently under review, SB 37, which "is another effort to weaken or perhaps destroy the rights of public sector workers," Alpert said.

Rep. Melanie Levesque, D-Brookline, was among the speakers. Levesque said "we are living the dream."

"If you look around you, just in this room, we are living the dream. It's not like it was 50 years ago," she said.

Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said she grew up Catholic, and her first experience with Baptists was during an MLK celebration at the First Baptist Church of Nashua.

"It's so important that we remember . our leaders, our fallen leaders and heroes - that we learn from history," Lozeau said.

"One of the things that Martin Luther King Jr. Day does for us is it gives us a little bit of the opportunity for thoughtful reflection, from lessons learned from the things that we teach our children."

Lozeau's recognition of the holiday invoked the March on Washington led by King, as well as his fight for social and economic justice.

She ended her speech recalling some of King's most famous words, which were repeated by the entire crowd. "Free at least. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we're free at last."

Christian Lopez, a freshman at Hollis-Brookline Middle School, was chosen to represent students. Lopez summarized King's life, touching on his commitment to nonviolence, which formed after meeting Mahatma Gandhi through the American Friends Service Committee.

"He was not only fighting to stop segregation in the United States, he was showing the world that problems do not have to be solved with violence," Lopez said.

He added that King's fight was not just about blacks in the U.S., but about humanity overall, "which has no race, ethnicity, or color."


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