Martin Luther King Jr. remembrance service held in New Canaan
NEW CANAAN — The 89th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s birthday, celebrated at a remembrance event at United Methodist Church, included messages of hope and unity - and a rebuke of President Donald Trump.
Rev. Lindsay E. Curtis of Grace Baptist Church in Norwalk, also a former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Norwalk branch and guest speaker, referred to President Trump without mentioning him by name in his speech.
“The pot has been stirred in the past few months,” Rev. Curtis said. “Clearly there is need for reconciliation because there is an even greater divide today.”
Curtis, who was 11 years old when he attended the March on Washington in 1963, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, referenced Barack Obama’s presidency and his disbelief at the current administration.
“We didn't think in our lifetime that we would see an African-American reach the highest office in the land. Eight short years later - oh my goodness,” Curtis said. “This is 2018, huh? Just the other day, listening to news reports, I had to ask myself that question, ‘did I really hear that?’ Is this a segment on Saturday Night Live? Can this be real? And yet, the silence is deafening. Racism is still very much alive and unfortunately doing well.”
The event comes in the wake of President Trump reportedly calling Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “shithole” countries.
Event attendees hailed from towns in the surrounding area. “My wife came last year and she suggested we go together this year,” Joe Samuel, from Stamford, said. “I thought the event was fantastic, a combination of faiths to show that we have one thing in common - hope.”
Gregory Thornewell, who read excerpts of King’s “Dream” speech at the service, was eight years old at the March on Washington but the memory of that day has remained with him ever since.
“The scene of unity and purpose and the overflowing spirit - I had never seen anything like it,” Thornewell said.
Margaret Pastel, a participant in A Better Chance of New Canaan, a program for minority students to attend New Canaan High School, said that she attends the event annually. “It’s one of my favorite events of the year,” Pastel said. “I always love hearing what the boys have to say and it’s a powerful thing.”
Attendees and Interfaith Council staffers remarked about the size of the crowd. “This is the biggest crowd I’ve seen at this event,” Catherine Holstein, a member of the Interfaith Council, said.
Mary Runestead, a coordinator in the Interfaith Council, agreed. “The event was very good. This was something that we started hosting about 15 years ago and it’s always been held here in New Canaan.”
Peggy Ruffin, a Norwalk resident who attends the Community Baptist Church in New Canaan, said: “Today was great, one of the largest crowds I’ve ever seen.”
Bruce Taylor, a guitarist for the Serendipity Chorale, grew up in New Canaan. “I’m used to performing here,” Taylor said. “ I grew up in New Canaan so coming back here brings a lot of memories, I went to junior high school just down the road.”
Rev. Daniel Hickman of Community Baptist Church in New Canaan introduced Rev. Curtis. “The capacity of people at the event here was great, more people from our congregation came to help and work,” Hickman said. He had been at an early morning breakfast in Norwalk earlier that day and was headed to an event scheduled to start at 2 p.m.
At the conclusion of the service, attendees enjoyed refreshments provided by United Methodist.
“I was pleasantly surprised. I have heard that people saw this as a call to action and if so, then mission accomplished,” Rev. Curtis said along with his wife, Janis.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan also spoke at the event. He praised King’s educational trajectory, civil rights efforts and humane accomplishments. Fellow selectman Kit Devereaux was also in attendance.
Representatives from St. Aloysius Church and Community Baptist Church, both from New Canaan, were at the event. Grace Baptist Church of Norwalk and Temple Sinai of Stamford were also represented.
Serendipity Chorale of Southwestern Connecticut performed the processional at the beginning of the event. The offertory from the event will be donated to the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County.