Martin Luther King conference in New Haven focuses on education, service

17 Jan 2012 1:34 PM | Anonymous

Martin Luther King conference in New Haven focuses on education, service

Monday, January 16, 2012

By Abbe Smith, Register Staff / Twitter: @abbegsmith

NEW HAVEN - Hundreds of people gathered at Wexler-Grant School Monday to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and to engage in community building through education and service.

More than 200 volunteers came out for the annual Martin Luther King conference, a decades-old tribute event that features music, free food, civil rights reflections, raffles and workshops for students, families and community members. The event was organized by [Theta Epsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.] and Omega Psi Phi fraternity, with help from the school district and numerous nonprofits, and donations from businesses.

“It’s important to maintain tradition and history and, more importantly, to celebrate this day by giving back to the community,” said Sondi Jackson, one of the lead organizers of the conference and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

She said the purpose of the workshops is to “uplift the community” and inspire people to think about the world around them.

United Way of Greater New Haven helped recruit volunteers for the event, which featured remarks from state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Wexler-Grant Principal Sabrina Breland and Ward 22 Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison. The Rev. Brian Bellamy of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church gave the keynote address.

The workshops cater to different age groups. Programs for kindergarten through second grade students included storytelling about the Civil Rights Movement, fire safety, African dance and drumming. Kids in third through fifth grades got to try beading, dramatic arts and line dancing. Middle schoolers learned about bullying, self-esteem and planning for the future. High school students joined health discussions, learned about Internet safety and heard about the New Haven Promise college scholarship program.

Adult offerings included workshops on education topics such as the life of Rosa Parks, but also featured practical discussions about starting a business, navigating break-ups or divorce, estate and funeral planning, mental health treatments and weight loss.

In a workshop for young children about King’s legacy, Al Lucas, director of the city’s Office of Legislative Services, urged kids to remember the civil rights leader’s life and dream of a better world, rather than focusing on his assassination. He told students about King’s dedication to Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence and his use of civil disobedience to fight racism and effect change. And Lucas reminded students that King was once a kid just like them.

“What do you want to be when you grow up,” he asked the kids. Hands shot up and students vowed to be presidents, teachers, toy makers and principals.

In another room, youth mentor Timothy Brown engaged middle schoolers in discussion about King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He asked students if they think King’s “dream” for justice and equality has been realized. Jasmine Brown, a student at Elm City College Preparatory School and one of 200 volunteers at the conference, answered “no.”

“That is not what’s going on right now,” she said, adding she believes society is moving closer to King’s vision of equality.

While some of the workshops focused on King, others addressed practical issues and served to solve problems facing youth and adults. High school students learned about budgeting basics from presenter Terrence Jennings. Merieta Bayati, owner of the Girlie Girl Shop in New Haven, talked to a group of women about starting their own business and being successful even in a bad economy.

“It’s all about how you carry yourself. You have to believe in yourself,” she said.

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