By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — Singing, dancing and speeches bridged the past and present Sunday during a program in Oneonta honoring the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
A recital of King’s “I Have a Dream’’ speech and a student dance performance were among highlights of the two-hour remembrance and celebration at the Elm Park United Methodist Church. The audience of about 90 people reflected diverse ages and racial backgrounds, and the program acknowledged progress of civil rights in the United States and some remaining challenges.
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday marking the birthday of the civil rights leader. He was born Jan. 15, 1929, and died April 4, 1968.
Speakers acknowledged the local roles and missions of the Oneonta Chapter of the NAACP and the city’s Commission on Community Relations and Human Rights, which sponsored Sunday’s event. Musicians performed jazz pieces and hymns throughout the program, and a reception afterwards featured a birthday cake with candles.
King fought passionately for social equality and against prejudice, Lee Fisher, president of the Oneonta Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in opening remarks. Fisher encouraged all to strive toward truth, justice and ensuring human rights and other principles championed by King, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
In a booming voice, Reginald Brunson of Hobart gave a recital of King’s speech to a silent audience that gave him a standing ovation after King’s “free at last’’ phrases.
Several Oneonta Job Corps Academy students agreed that the event Sunday was a worthy tribute to King. In particular, the recital of King’s “I Have a Dream’’ speech helped them imagine being present 50 years ago when he addressed crowds gathered at the March on Washington, the step performers said.
“I felt I was there in the era,’’ Brooklyn Job Corps student Samirah Crawford said during the reception. “Martin Luther King Jr. was there during the struggle.’’
Harrold Jacobs, a student from Patterson, N.J., said Brunson’s presentation was a touching performance that reminded listeners about history and was a prompt for more.
“It’s important to know your past,’’ Jacobs said. Knowing about history, he said, is key to being prepared for the future.
By clapping and stomping, the OXA Step Team from the Job Corps Academy created rhythmic and visually precise dance vignettes in King’s honor. The six team members, wearing khaki pants and purple T-shirts, snapped fingers and used arm gestures to give impressions of unity.
Essie Harding, a member of Elm Park United Methodist Church, told the audience that the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, was sworn in Sunday for his second term. The public inauguration will be today, she said.
“We are praying for President Obama,’’ Harding said.
King would likely applaud the nation’s accomplishments toward “his dream,’’ Harding said, but he also would point out that “his dream is not yet fully realized.’’ As the world grows smaller and the “dream’’ expands, other human rights and civil rights issues surface, she said.
In the United States, for example, immigration is a pending issue, Harding said.
Children brought to the country by parents or other relatives have grown up in American society without documentation, she said, and they face limited access to education and other hurdles.
Obama’s re-election gives hope for immigration reform and continued progress toward the “dream,’’ Harding said.
“Let us continue to keep the dream alive for generations to come,’’ she said.
King was a “great hero and a great man,’’ Michael Lynch, Fourth Ward member on the Common Council and deputy mayor, said before reading an Oneonta city proclamation in honor of the civil rights leader.