More than 175 individuals joined hands in a circle Sunday to sing “We Shall Overcome” at a program honoring and celebrating the lives and work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
The group swayed together at the First United Methodist Church in Oneonta at the culmination of a two-hour program that likely would have pleased its honorees.
The program, sponsored by the Oneonta Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the City of Oneonta Commission on Community Relations & Human Rights, featured a variety of powerful speakers and musical performances.
A highlight of the program came when Reginald Brunson passionately recited excerpts of Mandela’s “Anti-Apartheid” speech and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to a reverent audience which reflected diverse ages and racial backgrounds.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you hear those words,” Lee Fisher, president of the Oneonta Branch of the NAACP said. “It does something to you.”
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday marking the birthday of the civil rights leader, who was born Jan. 15, 1929, and died April 4, 1968. Last year was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Former South African President Mandela, who served 27 years in prison for anti-apartheid activities, died Dec. 5, 2013.
Sadiq Abdushahid, who played drums for several musical selections during Sunday’s program, said there was a “fantastic turnout,” and imagined a world with the same level of compassion that the audience seemed to have.
“At gatherings like this, we get a chance to see what life would be like if we all worked together like Dr. King dreamed about,” Abdushahid said. “For instance, I am a Muslim and they welcome me here.”
Before reading an Oneonta city proclamation honoring King and Mandela, Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller urged the audience to continue their legacy by committing to uphold their ideals and replace prejudice and hate with love and understanding. Miller wondered aloud what could have been if King had lived as long as Mandela, who died at the age of 95.