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Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's legacy during a pandemic

Maine leaders give ways to celebrate and honor Dr. King’s contributions, as many events have been canceled or gone virtual this year.

MAINE, USA — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights leader who fought for equality and human rights for African Americans in the '50s and '60s through peaceful protests.

"King's primary message was love, 'Love thy neighbor as yourself,' the language he used was the language of brotherhood and sisterhood," says Tess Chakkalakal, American and African American literature professor at Bowdoin College.

Chakkalakal says many of the things that Dr. King fought for, have been partially lost. That includes the unity and togetherness during difficult times, "That's one of the reasons why it's important to remember his message."

"Looking at each American citizen as equal stakeholders in this country, so I think the summer really heightened the injustices that we see in this country and in the world," says Elisabeth Redwood, president of the University of Maine's Black Student Union.

"We have to keep pushing as hard as we can, and everybody has a duty here, not just the marginalized or the white people, but all of us," says Angela Okafor, Bangor city councilor.

Some of the ways Maine leaders say people can honor Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy this year include:

  • Donating to an organization of your choice in Dr. King's name
  • Read and listen to Dr. King's famous speeches
  • Analyze the words in his speeches with a friend, relative, or family member to keep his legacy strong.
  • Continue to fight for racial equality 
  • Attend a virtual event
  • Supporting local black communities

"Looking across the dinner table, and really having those hard discussions is what's going to build progress and move us forward," says Redwood. "And to listen to his words and take them seriously, I think now is the time to do this," adds Chakkalakal.

Chakkalakal says Dr. King was known for non-violent protests and for bringing everyone together peacefully. "I don't think we are seeing that, instead we are seeing a lot of confrontation in all of the protests over the course of the past year."

Redwood tells NEWS CENTER Maine having Kamala Harris as vice-president-elect means an equal representation and a true symbol of what it means to be an American.
"I think that the new administration is hopefully going to take accountability, and the younger generation is going to hold them to that accountability," says Redwood. "We are seeing the way the world is moving towards and we are not happy about it."

Patricia Joyner is a student at UMaine and a member of the university's Black Student Union. She says Dr. King's legacy had grown and developed into something greater thanks to the power of Social Media.

"We can just still have these difficult, challenging conversations with solutions in mind, as far as making our political figures implement these policies to change and to work against racism," says Joyner.

Some of the events happening in Maine on MLK day or throughout the rest of the month include:

  • 'Being Black in Maine' webinar offered by Greater Bangor Area Branch NAACP, UMaine Alumni Association for Martin Luther King Day. In recognition of Martin Luther King Day, a free online public webinar, “Being Black in Maine: Lived Experience and the Prospect for Change,” will be live-streamed on YouTube on January 18th from 5 to 6:15 p.m. More details can be viewed here.

  • Academics Sanchez, Bracey to discuss impact of Black studies. In honor of Black History Month, the University of Maine Black Student Union and the University of Maine Alumni Association will welcome Dr. Sonia Sanchez and Dr. John Bracey to discuss the importance and impact of Black Studies in 21st century higher education Thursday, January 28th at 6 p.m. EST over Zoom. Register for the free, public event by clicking here.

  •  Yarmouth High School Students to Hold Hybrid “March for Democracy” on MLK Day on January 18th, 2021. Students, staff, and the Yarmouth community will show their support by watching a live stream, creating signs of support, and donating to non-profit organizations as part of the Day of Service. More information on this event is available here.
  • The 40th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Observance event by Maine Initiatives will be held virtually on January 18th from 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. More information on this event can be found here. 

Other Maine figures honoring MLK Jr. Monday include Gov. Janet Mills and astronaut Jessica Meir. 

In a statement, Mills said,

“Today, our nation grapples with the challenges of inequity and injustice; with challenges that make the promise of the American dream feel more extinguished than alive for too many of our people; with challenges that are deepened by the deadly pandemic that rages on all around us. We know that progress in turning the tide on these issues is not inevitable. Instead, it is won on school steps and street corners, on bridges and buses, in legislatures and courts. It is advanced by those, like Martin Luther King Jr., whose courage and conviction remind us that equality and opportunity for all is the moral heartbeat – the imperative – of our nation. As we pay tribute to Dr. King, let us renew these ideals in our hearts and minds and recommit ourselves to realizing them so that the promise of the American dream may become a reality for all people.”

Meir shared a video on Twitter of her and fellow astronaut Christina Koch finishing their third spacewalk last year and honoring Dr. King. 

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