Although the event was more sparsely attended than years past because of the presidential inauguration, the participants at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremony Monday at the state Capitol were reminded that there is more work to be done.
“I think Connecticut residents need to stop and look outside their individual box and see how many people are struggling. I mean living hand-to-mouth,” said James Williams, chair of the Connecticut Martin Luther King Jr. Day Holiday Commission that was established in 1986 by the late Gov. William O’Neill.
“When men and women enter the job corps and enter training programs and work to become certified in skill areas . . . and find there isn’t an apprenticeship to move into after their training — then we have work to do,” Williams said. “When parents in communities large and small around our state grieve the loss of their children to violence by fellow citizens . . . we still have much work.”
He called on the audience to find a small way to volunteer their time and give back to their communities. He said he teaches chess to second and third graders one day a week.
He said the honorees Monday are a “shining example of this kind of civic participation.”
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said that as a society we often wait for leaders like Dr. King to “tell us what way to go and what to do.” But he argued that it’s about the “light on the path.”
“Give light and people will find a way,” Lembo said.
He also thanked the Rev. Bonita Grubbs of New Haven, who was recognized by the Martin Luther King Jr. commission, for “inspiring us to do better and more.”
Grubbs of Christian Community Action was honored along with Diane Lucas of Glastonbury and Rex Fowler of Hartford for their work in the community and for continuing to shine that light on the path.
They are the “Good Samaritans” who are helping individuals on the road to Jericho — those who are poor and don’t have housing — receive those things from the community, Grubbs said.
It was a reference to a parable often cited by Dr. King:
“On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring,” King said during a speech at Riverside Church in New York City back in April 1967.
The quote appears to apply to modern day Connecticut.
“There are more things to be done in these hallowed halls to restructure the way in which we provide services,” Grubbs said. “To restructure the way in which we deny individuals opportunities and to deal with the racial inequalities that exist in our state.”
She said there’s additional work to be done in a society that produces beggars.
“Who wants to live as a beggar?” Grubbs asked. “Each one of us has a role to play in helping one individuals who needs our help. But beyond that to show the compassion that extends itself to the actual work, the hard work of systems change.”
She said the holiday is a day for everyone to reflect upon how they can make a difference in the lives of another.
It also wasn’t lost on the speakers at the event that Monday marked the second inauguration of the first African-American president.
After all of the celebrations and speeches, “President Obama and the rest of us have to get to work to try and create a much more perfect union,” Grubbs said.
But more than a month after 20 children and six educators were shot dead in Newtown, the way in which King died also became a theme.
“As we celebrate this holiday and remember Dr. King, we remember that yes he fell at the hands of a gun,” the Rev. Stephen Camp said. “We remember he lived his life preaching and living the way of non-violence.”
He said violence is real and around us “calling forth from us our best.” He said they pray for families in Newtown, and all the places around the nation where “violence breaks our tranquility.”