MLK Day prompts discussions about overcoming racism

  • A portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. by Stone Soup Cafe Board President Whitney Robbins. Contributed/Jansyn Thaw

  • A portrait of voting rights activist and Georgia politician Stacey Abrams by Stone Soup Cafe Board President Whitney Robbins. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/JANSYN THAW

  • A drawing by Leilany Zaylene Jackson, 10, from the Twice as Smart School in Greenfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/JANSYN THAW

  • A display outside Stone Soup Cafe in Greenfield honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Contributed Photo/Jansyn Thaw

Staff Writer
Published: 1/19/2021 6:58:21 PM

Community discussions organized around Martin Luther King Jr. Day saw Franklin County residents consider the activist’s legacy, anti-racism education and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Monday evening, on MLK Day, members of the Sunderland Human Rights Task Force and Working Group and the Deerfield Inclusion Group held a discussion on the book “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You.” Additionally, the title is being read by the eighth-grade class at Frontier Regional School.

Sunderland Human Rights Task Force and Working Group member Kim Audette said Monday’s discussion offered “many insights about how racism has affected us all.”

According to Audette, the Sunderland group is focused on promoting anti-racism education, and aims to provide support and advocacy for community members who express concerns about racism.

“Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You” is geared toward a young adult audience, and Audette said the group wanted to read the book and hold the discussion in support of Frontier’s decision to assign the reading to students. About 25 people, a mix of task force members and other community members ranging from teens to a 94-year-old, joined Monday’s discussion.

“We talked about our emotional responses to the book, and what stood out to people,” Audette said. “We all felt like, no matter how learned we were becoming with the Black Lives Matter movement, there was still something new for everybody in this book.”

Participants shared stories of their own experiences with racism, and focused on the levels that are ingrained into society due to influences of political and financial institutions. She said those involved walked away from the discussion glad that local students are learning about the topics.

Film festival, art show

Meanwhile, in Greenfield, Stone Soup Café held a “Pick Your Own Anti-Racism Film Festival” Sunday in honor of MLK Day. The federal holiday marks the birthday of King, who was born in Georgia in 1929, and was assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39.

Stone Soup Cafe Volunteer Coordinator and Assistant Director Jansyn Thaw said Sunday saw about 10 people gather for a discussion, including Stone Soup Cafe board members, Executive Chef and Director Kirsten Levitt and community members.

The night’s opening question asked what King’s legacy meant to each person and how he impacted their lives. Levitt was born in 1964, and grew up just blocks away from the Audubon Ballroom in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, where Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. When King was killed, Levitt was just 4 years old. She said she had “liberal thinking” parents who discussed equality, love and respect.

“When MLK was assassinated, there were a lot of tears in my household,” Levitt recalled.

Attending New York City public schools, Levitt and classmates wrote plays about King and his legacy in third grade. By fifth grade, she said buildings would empty as students would boycott school in support of MLK Day.

“We already knew we should be celebrating his day and uplifting him,” she said.

On Nov. 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared the day a federal holiday in the United States.

As they discussed the films in the festival Sunday, Thaw and Levitt said attendees talked about racism, ally-ship and how to be anti-racist. Thaw said the group referenced the 2016 film “Kiki” as an example. Set in New York City, “Kiki” focuses on the drag and voguing scene, and surveys the lives of LGBTQ youth of color at a time when Black Lives Matter and trans rights are making front-page headlines.

“The film was created by white, Swedish filmmakers who use their influence to share this whole scene and the history of it,” Thaw said. “But they’re keeping themselves out of the picture. They’re using their platform to uplift voices of people of color.”

Levitt and Thaw said they will continue to promote racial equality and anti-racism education with future community events at the Stone Soup Cafe. She said the pay-what-you-can café has made efforts, both internally and publicly, to promote anti-racism messages. The Stone Soup Cafe often holds an art exhibit, and this weekend’s installation was created to promote the Black Lives Matter movement and MLK Day.

Art for the show included pieces by Stone Soup Cafe Board President Whitney Robbins, local artist Rachel Jenkins and local elementary art students. The paintings, some of which can be seen on Instagram “@stonesoupcafegreenfield,” included large portraits of King and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, who served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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