Over 125 virtual attendees gathered on Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday for a timely discussion about social injustice, achieving equality as a community, and the historical roots of white supremacy.
The commemoration marked Bedford’s fifth annual MLK Jr. Community Day, sponsored by Bedford Embraces Diversity. But it was the first to be held via Zoom.
Vocalist Aniyah Certain, a Bedford High School senior, led the service by singing a rendition of “Rise Up,” an inspirational ballad reminding the audience to “rise up, in spite of the ache.” This sentiment was echoed throughout the morning, as all attendees joined each other with the common goal of upholding the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and ideals. Certain also closed the program with the song “Give Me You.”
“We have come a mighty long way, but also know that we still have a long way to go,” said retired local educator and historian Joseph Zellner, as he compared the present day to Dr. King’s time. Zellner reminded the audience of King’s devotion to achieving equality for Black Americans, and how his efforts led to the elimination of many unjust laws.
“While we are changing laws, we need to work just as hard — and harder — to change hearts and minds,” Zellner said. “That is the hard work still to be done.”
Dr. Elizabeth Herbin-Triant, a UMass Lowell associate professor of history, agreed with Zellner, saying society has certainly moved closer to King’s idea of a “beloved community,” but that “we’re not quite there yet.” She said the beloved community is “shaped by this concept of human society that’s built around God’s love, that’s characterized by people who love each other … in the way God loves us.”
To promote equality, Herbin-Triant shared some ideas of her own to help achieve Dr. King’s ideal beloved community. This included fighting against lies, acknowledging the value of Black life, and recognizing white supremacy.
Herbin-Triant told the audience it’s essential to remember the past in order to move forward. “If we’re going to understand what we’re facing today, we really need to grapple with what we’ve been through,” she said.
This led to a synopsis of the history of slavery and segregation, and how the United States’ racist past is still prominent in today’s society. Herbin-Triant used photos of a noose hanging outside the nation’s Capitol building and a man waving a Confederate flag inside the building just two weeks ago to help support her point.
She claimed that white supremacy is built upon a set of lies and violence that we as a community must learn to combat. “We’ve made a lot of progress in fighting white supremacy … but there’s work to do,” she said.
Herbin-Triant stressed the significance of offering opportunities to those historically disadvantaged or oppressed, saying, “Workplaces need to have diversity. We need to have diverse teams and departments … seeking out diverse perspectives is really important.” She said communities also need to embrace the METCO program and encourage the construction of more affordable housing.
Following Professor Herbin-Triant’s talk, Marilou Barsam, co-founder of Bedford Embraces Diversity, ended the commemorative ceremony with a tribute to every unarmed Black individual killed by violence in 2020. Barsam projected a photograph, read the name, and gave a brief description of each victim, and audience members echoed their names.
“The thought I would like to leave us all with is how harmful that kind of violence is,” Barsam said.
Bedford Embraces Diversity is continuing to collect non-food items for the Bedford Emergency Response Food Bank as part of the MLK Day observance. A depository has been set up outside the residence at 2 Sunset Road and will continue to accept donations for the rest of this week.
The event was live-streamed and recorded by Bedford TV and can be watched through the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhjPZOPjPG4
Editor’s Note: Bedford Embraces Diversity’s Community Day Service Project remains open until January 24. Click this link to participate.