‘We must keep on’: Hundreds attend 39th Annual MLK Jr. Community Breakfast at Assumption University

WORCESTER — There was plenty of food for breakfast and plenty of food for thought for people to digest at the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday morning at Assumption University.

With an estimated 600 people in attendance for this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast, Rev. Debora Jackson — professor of practice and dean of The Business School at Worcester Polytechnic Institute — got the celebration rolling with a rousing rally cry that addressed the longevity of the breakfast and incredible life of King, which coincidentally share the same number of years, 39, this year.

Rattling off King’s amazing accomplishments while referencing his iconic speeches on the day that would have been King’s 95th birthday, Jackson made an impassioned plea to continue to march on until the dream that King preached, prophesized about and died for is fully realized.

Rev. Debora Jackson, dean of The Business School at WPI, serves as emcee during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday at Assumption University honoring Martin Luther King Jr..

Rev. Debora Jackson, dean of The Business School at WPI, serves as emcee during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday at Assumption University honoring Martin Luther King Jr..

“Thirty-nine years is a long time to sponsor and present an event but 39 years is a short period of time when we talk about the span of a life. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was only 39 years old when he was taken from us. But in 39 years he left an indelible mark on the world,” Jackson said. “Now, 56 years later, we are gathered together because we know that we have yet to get to the ‘Promised Land.’ Until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream, until we beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, until we realize that the love of community that King thought and for which he died, we will continue to march on. We must press on. We must keep on. We must go on until we reach the ‘Promised Land’…We must continue to dedicate ourselves.”

In his greetings to the audience, U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D- Massachusetts, and ranking member of the Rules Committee, received a standing ovation from the crowd for his candid commentary on the surge of hatred in our country and his rallying of the crowd to come together and fight racism, ignorance and injustice.

“We are in a struggle for the heart and soul of this country and we don’t have a second to waste. The surge of hate against black and brown people, against our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters, against our LBGTQ+ friends and neighbors and against immigrants is alarming,” McGovern said. “The truth is this country is at a real crossroad and, if you don’t believe that, your head is stuck in the sand. The choice is no longer progress versus the status quo. Those who oppose justice, who oppose freedom, who oppose democracy, they want to take us back, to reverse and undo all the progress that have been made.”

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern speaks during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday at Assumption University honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern speaks during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday at Assumption University honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

In addition, McGovern gave a first-hand account of the U.S. Capitol attack Jan. 6, 2021.

“I was there that day. And a mob including white supremacists, violently tried to throw out the votes that they didn’t like because they didn’t get their way,” McGovern insisted. “And, now, they’re trying to do it in states all across the country. They want to, literally, throw Black votes into the trash so they can win. And that is what we are up against. And, look, none of this is new. It’s not even surprising, frankly. Equality feels like oppression for those who are accustomed to always getting their way.”

Sounding more like a preacher than a politician, McGovern called for the community to get together and work for an end to the injustice.

Sharon Henderson, senior leader at the Covenant St. Andrews United Methodist Church of Worcester, cheers during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday at Assumption University honoring Martin Luther King Jr..

Sharon Henderson, senior leader at the Covenant St. Andrews United Methodist Church of Worcester, cheers during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday at Assumption University honoring Martin Luther King Jr..

“Martin Luther King was not universally loved. He was not neutral and we can’t be either. He spent many nights in a jail cell. He was a radical, controversial figure in his time and someone who knew that things just don’t get better on their own. They get better when like-minded people get together and demand change,” McGovern said. “So we must realize that we’re all complicit when we tolerate injustice. We all need to cultivate our moral compass. We need to speak up and speak out when we see something that is wrong. We need to do more. We need to do more than to come to this breakfast every year.”

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D- Massachusetts

More so than ever, McGovern said we have the strength and courage to carry King’s teachings in our own lives.

Chantel (no last name provided), left, and Suzanne Graham-Anderson, both of Worcester, make their way through the buffet line during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday at Assumption University honoring Martin Luther King Jr..

Chantel (no last name provided), left, and Suzanne Graham-Anderson, both of Worcester, make their way through the buffet line during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday at Assumption University honoring Martin Luther King Jr..

“Yes, we do believe in Martin Luther King’s dream. We do believe we have to keep hope alive. And we do believe that working together we can get to that ‘Promised Land’ that Dr. King spoke so elegantly about,” McGovern insisted. “We have the power to decide how this story ends. But I ask for all of your help in this work ahead as we build a more just and peaceful, loving country for all and, hopefully, a more just and peaceful world for every single person on this planet.”

In his keynote address, Vincent D. Rougeau, president of the College of the Holy Cross, said the country is, “stuck in a status quo we like to change and path forward is less than clear.

“We must look to Dr. King’s life and legacy to understand how transformation of the individual, their community and the whole world actually happens,” Rougeau said. ”There is no quick fix.”

Vincent D. Rougeau, president of the College of the Holy Cross, serves as keynote speaker during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday at Assumption University honoring Martin Luther King Jr..

Vincent D. Rougeau, president of the College of the Holy Cross, serves as keynote speaker during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday at Assumption University honoring Martin Luther King Jr..

Furthermore, Rougeau said Worcester is a unique community for its capacity for informative and impactful action.

“We don’t have to become a new city. We simply have to honor who we have always been: A safe haven for people seeking freedom, a community of abolitionists and change-makers, a welcome gateway for immigrating families and newcomers…a place that anything is possible because of this rich history,” Rougeau said. “Worcester is currently experiencing an incredible transformation in its economy and its development. If ever there was a moment to get unstuck and fight the fragmentation, to come together and carry Dr. King’s legacy forward, this is the moment.”

Mayor Joseph M. Petty, City Manager Eric D. Batista and Greg Weiner, president of Assumption University, also addressed the crowd.

Greg Weiner, president of Assumption University, speaks during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday honoring Martin Luther King Jr..

Greg Weiner, president of Assumption University, speaks during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday honoring Martin Luther King Jr..

The names (and the schools that they will be attending) of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship recipients of $1,000 were also announced during the breakfast. They are: Sam Aboagye, Assumption University; Ajoa Adu, Georgia State University; Abigail Burbick, Lehigh University; Quinn Cahill, Northeastern University; Saket Damle, New York University; Jerome Kataliko, Clark University; Laura Lee, Carnegie Mellon University; Gabrielle Mahoney, University of Rhode Island; Sydney Mercadante, Wentworth Institute of Technology; Isabella Rodriguez, Stonehill College; Ellery Russell, University of Alabama; Zoey Sandberg, Bentley University; Ashley Slavin, University of South Carolina; and Silas Summers, Tufts University.

Other scholarship recipients are: Cameron Marques, Quinsigamond Community College, recipient of the Quinsigamond Community College MLK Scholarship ($1,000); Arop Majak, Quinsigamond Community College, Becky Chicone Memorial Scholarship ($2,000); and Simone Nelson-White, North Carolina A&T State University, recipient of the Janet Schuyler and Stanley Gutridge Scholarship ($3,000).

Worcester Fire Lt. Robert LaRose was also honored with the Lt. Herbert A. Wilson Achievement Award for Community Service.

Attendees stand during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday at Assumption University honoring Martin Luther King Jr..

Attendees stand during the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Monday at Assumption University honoring Martin Luther King Jr..

Colin Parsons, a sixth grader at Nelson Place Elementary School, is the winner of the Worcester Historical Museum 2024 MLK Art Contest. His design was used on a commemorative pin that was passed out to all breakfast recipients.

This year’s breakfast was held in the Plourde Recreation Center at Assumption University. The event is traditionally held at Quinsigamond Community College but was moved this year due to construction on the Quinsigamond Community College campus. Plans are to return the event to Quinsigamond Community College next year.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Hundreds at 39th MLK Jr. Community Breakfast at Assumption University

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