Newton Mayor Setti Warren speaks at Martin Luther King Jr. ceremony in Springfield

Published: Friday, January 13, 2012
By Jack Flynn, The Republican

Photo by Michael S. Gordon - Newton Mayor Setti D. Warren addresses the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration and flag-raising Friday at Springfield City Hall.

SPRINGFIELD – The state’s first elected black mayor urged residents to celebrate the progress made possible by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. while pushing for greater social and economic equality.

Speaking at a ceremony honoring the civil rights leader, Newton Mayor Setti D. Warren told the overflow crowd at City Hall that his daughter Abagail is growing up in a world that would be unrecognizable to her grandparents.

She lives in a city “with a black mayor, in a state with a black governor, in a country with a black president,” said Warren, the keynote speaker at the event sponsored by the city, the local NAACP chapter and other groups.

“She’s too young to know there was a time when (those opportunities) were not for her, when her ascendance was not possible,” said Warren, 42, a lawyer and Naval intelligence officer who was elected mayor in 2009 after returning from Iraq.

Still, Warren said, stubborn social problems, from substandard schools to corporate greed and political partisanship, loom as obstacles to continued progress, especially for black Americans.

“Martin Luther King Jr. understood that in times of trouble, character is revealed,” Newton said, adding: “Above all else, Martin Luther King Jr. was an optimist.”

He urged the younger generation to draw inspiration from King’s speeches and actions, especially his willingness “to look past our differences and see a stake in each other’s futures.”

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno also spoke, urging residents to celebrate the progress made toward racial equality while deploring the epidemic of gang violence. “There is a scourge of youth violence – our own kids killing each other, and for what?” Sarno said.

Photo by Michael S. Gordon – Rev. Talbert Swan II, president of the Springfield NAACP, left, presents a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award to John M. Wilson, right, Springfield College assistant dean of students and director of multi-cultural affairs at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemeration and flag raising at Springfield City Hal

Rev. Talbert Swan, president of the local NAACP chapter, also reminded the crowd that causes championed by Martin Luther King Jr. are the same ones the NAACP is fighting for today.

“Jobs and justice,” said Swan, whose uncle, state Rep. Benjamin Swan, D-Springfield, served as chapter president in the 1960s.

Recalling the convictions last year of three Springfield men for torching of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ hours after Barack Obama’s election in 2008, Swan said: “That didn’t happen in Mississippi or Alabama; it happened right here in good old metropolitan, liberal Springfield.”

The ceremony also included songs, poetry and the raising of a flag with King’s image outside City Hall. Springfield College’s director of multicultural affairs, John M. Wilson, was also given the annual Martin Luther King Jr. award.

Students from the Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School of Excellence attended the service, with 11-year old Lenox Hamilton winning applause for his reading from of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“I think I know who the next senator is going to be,” said Warren, who announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Scott Brown last year, but has since dropped out of the race.

Other Martin Luther King holiday events are scheduled in the next few days.

In Northampton, the American Friends Service Committee will hold its 28th annual event Monday, beginning at 9 a.m. with a historical walk starting at the Sojourner Truth statue on Pine Street in Florence.

More events and workshops at Edwards Church, 297 Main St., start at 11 a.m.

In Amherst, the Martin Luther King breakfast will be held Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Amherst Regional Middle School.

The breakfast features speakers and awards. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for children 12 and under.

On Tuesday, a celebration will be held at 1 p.m. in the Department of Veterans Affairs Northampton medical center chapel in Leeds.

The celebration’s guest speaker will be Rev. Calvin Jerome McFadden Sr., the senior pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield. In Greenfield, a Martin Luther King Day service will be held Sunday at All Souls UU Church at 10:00 am.

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