GCC celebrates MLK

  • Donna Wang helps daughter Issa Peardon, 3½, make an imitation Nobel Prize out of clay at one of the arts and crafts tables in the Cohn Family Dining Commons at Greenfield Community College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration on Monday, Jan. 21. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1964. Staff Photo/Domenic Poli

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton) speaks at Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance activities at Greenfield Community College on Monday.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Greenfield Community College President Yves Salomon-Fernandez speaks at Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance activities at Greenfield Community College on Monday.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A chorus performs at Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance activities at Greenfield Community College on Monday.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • People do art activities at Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance activities at Greenfield Community College on Monday.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, looks at an art project by Jayna Leger, 12, of Northfield, with Greenfield Community College President Yves Salomon-Fernandez at Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance activities at Greenfield Community College on Monday.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Diane Lawson of Northhampton at Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance activities at Greenfield Community College on Monday.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/21/2019 6:04:10 PM

GREENFIELD — As chorus members returned to their seats, Opeyemi Parham stood up with “a public service announcement.”

She wanted everyone inside the Cohn Family Dining Commons to know her lunch table – a collection of strangers of different races and ages talking as friends and enjoying each other’s company – was a snapshot into the future.

“We didn’t know each other before, but here we are,” Parham said to applause before sitting down and continuing her meal.

Her observation tied in eloquently with the theme of Greenfield Community College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration, an annual event honoring the civil rights leader who dreamed of making “justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

The college has held the event for at least 10 years to celebrate the life, legacy and lessons of King, who was born on Jan. 15, 1929.

“My daughter is 6, and she knows who Martin Luther King is because of coming here every year,” said Mary McEntee, GCC’s student activities coordinator.

The event, which hosted dozens of families, began with children’s activities starting at 10 a.m. There were tables of arts and crafts supplies, and youngsters could decorate sugar cookies and make souvenirs, including suncatchers, buttons and beaded trinkets. There was one table where children to make their own imitation Nobel Prizes out of clay. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1964. Heather Catlin, a GCC student who volunteered for the event, explained kids formed their own medallions, and she placed them in a small oven for 10 minutes to harden them.

Newly sworn-in State Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton) spoke briefly about the importance of carrying on King’s mission for a more just America, and a special chorus assembled for the occasion sang “Guide My Feet” and “We Shall Overcome” under the direction of Margery Heins, director of GCC’s chorus. A lunch of macaroni and cheese and salad was served.

GCC President Yves Salomon-Fernandez, the first woman of color to lead the college, told The Recorder that King’s advovacy is still felt today.

“The civil rights movement established an ideal for us as a country that we should never stop striving for and working towards,” she said. “And having it at GCC is both symbolic and also reflects the values of the college, in terms of achieving equitable outcomes for people who are marginalized, people of lower income levels, people of color, people with disabilities and people who are otherwise different.

“I’m very pleased to see that the college has a long tradition, that precedes me, of hosting this multicultural, intergenerational event and that it’s risen to the level of stature that it has, and it draws people from the entire Pioneer Valley,” she also said.

King became a matyr for the civil rights movement on April 4, 1968, when the life of the most prolific advocate for social justice was cut short by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tenn. James Earl Ray was convicted in the killing and died in 1998. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, first celebrated as a national holiday in 1986, is the third Monday in January.

Comerford said it is fitting for a school to host the event, because the fight for investment in public education was a fundatmental aspect of the civil rights movement. She said it was great to see families come out to celebrate King’s memory and express themselves through art.

“I think it’s vibrant, I think it’s joyous, and I think it’s chock full of creativity,” she told The Recorder. “The civil rights movement stands as one of the most powerful … calls for civil and human rights for all. The promise of what Dr. King and his allies called for and the gains that they won stand as some of the major achievements of our time. The work has inspired generations.”

Guinevere Vanhorne, a 2015 graduate of GCC, has been coming to the event with her children for about five years. This is the second year she brought her mother, Donna Lawson.

“I like all the fun activities for the kids,” Vanhorne said, adding that it is important for children and adults “to learn about the activism of MLK and the fact that it wasn’t always this easy for a diverse group of people to be together in the same space at the same time, and just to recognize how far we’ve come to achieve such a community, such a unity.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or
413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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