It's just over 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King made his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech before the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
Nearly 200 congregants met Monday at the United Methodist Church in New Canaan to celebrate how far his legacy has come, and to consider what still lies ahead in the efforts to fulfill that dream.
"The dream of Dr. King is still alive," said the Rev. Dr. Robert Perry of Union Baptist Church in Stamford, the guest speaker at the annual Service of Remembrance sponsored by Interfaith of New Canaan.
"But we must remember that we must not be naïve," he said. "We live in a very different age (but) there are long-term effects of racism still living ... We've heard it even in Washington, in the halls of Congress."
"We must be alert," he said. "We must be aware of the fact ... We cannot sleep or slumber. We must tell the story over and over again."
In a celebration that combined choir music and emotional commentary, people reminisced about the famous march that drew 250,000 and is considered a tide-turning event in the history of civil rights.
"On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King led a march on Washington, D.C., in part to open the hearts and minds of the leaders of the nation," said Jack Kenaga, who introduced the event on behalf of the host church. "We are here, 50 years later, to remember that man, what he did ... and to remember that dream."
"Even though we face difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream," King orated in a recording of his famous speech, which was played at the beginning of the service.
"It was just a quiet Sunday school picnic-like thing," Tom Nissley of New Canaan remembered of the hot summer day in D.C. "We walked along the Mall. People had signs, carrying box lunches ... That's how it was. We stood around the Lincoln Memorial at the end of the Mall -- huge numbers of people, 250,000 people. Twenty-five percent of us we were white people.
"The country changed that day," said Nissley, a former minister, who grew emotional in his reflection. "I'm really glad I was there. Sometimes I think it's the most important thing I ever did. It would be important to remember we still have a long way to go. Amen."
Students participating in the residential program A Better Chance of New Canaan, Inc., also spoke during the ceremony.
"Dr. Martin Luther King has a positive legacy," said Myles Henderson, an African-American and senior at New Canaan High School. "Thanks to him and so many others, I can have faith in my goals and aspirations."
Fellow student Christopher Andrews agreed.
"Dr. King gave me the chance to be placed in this society as a young educated black man and be anything I wanted to be," said Christopher Andrews, another ABC New Canaan High senior. "I could never imagine a person I never met before could have such an influence on my life."
Perry, meanwhile, shared about meeting King. "I met this charismatic man -- so humble and yet so warm," he said.
"He knew work was his life," he said. "He knew his destiny. One has to admire him for the courage that he had ... He knew the change had to be made."
Perry said King's preaching "turned the world upside down."
"Dr. King's work, his ministry, was so powerful, there are the long-term effects of it that we don't know," he said. "Let us ground ourselves and ground our foundation of our faith and our thoughts. Let us be determined that the long-term effects of the dream will come true. It's up to us."
Hudson and Pat Stoddard of New Canaan were also at the 1963 march.
"The good work they're doing," Hudson said of Interfaith of New Canaan, "may it last long, grow and bring more and more people."
Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.