The community of Glen Cove braved the cold on Monday, Jan. 21 to gather for the city's 24th annual commemoration of the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., sponsored by the City of Glen Cove and the Glen Cove School District.
Fred Moore, City Councilmen Tim Tenke and Sean Dwyer, Mayor Ralph V. Suozzi, Assemblyman Charles Lavine, Eric Wingate, Judge Richard McCord, City Councilman Tony Jimenez, Senator Carl Marcellino, Pastor Pasquale Maraia, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Laurence Aronstein, City Councilman Mike DiLeo, Judge Joseph McCann, City Councilwoman Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, City Councilman Michael Famiglietti and the Rev. Al Evans were on hand to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Many began the day at the First Baptist Church on Continental Place for a symbolic march to the Wunsch Auditorium at Robert M. Finley Middle School, while others chatted with friends and neighbors and claimed their seats in the theater for the presentation.
Sheryl Goodine, chair of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Commemorative Commission, shared the job of emcee with Allen Hudson; the two also share jobs as assistant principals at Glen Cove High School.
Following Ms. Goodine's traditional welcome of "Harambe" and an invocation by the Rev. Michael Sniffen of St. John's Episcopal Church of Lattingtown, the Colors were brought to the front by members of the Glen Cove Police and Fire departments and Girl Scouts, and the Glen Cove High School Select Chorale sang The Star Spangled Banner.
Mayor Ralph V. Suozzi welcomed the crowd and spoke proudly of the fact that Glen Cove has been at the forefront of celebrating Dr. King's birthday for 24 years, "before President Ronald Reagan named the day a national holiday." Glen Cove's tradition was born during the administration of the mayor's father, the late Mayor Vincent "Jimmy" Suozzi, who marched alongside the late James Davis, father of Ms. Goodine, in an example of "equality and humanity" in 1985. Glen Cove has always embraced its diversity, said the mayor, and expressed pride that the city's schools are "teaching our youth what some adults still have to learn."
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Laurence Aronstein called the day "a special and personal day for me to pause and reflect upon the life and work of Martin Luther King." He spoke of Dr. King, a "truly religious person" who, as a Christian, knew that Christ walked the earth to serve the poor and the sinners and said that Dr. King did the same, living a life dedicated to the civil rights of all people. Dr. Aronstein remembered Dr. King as a strong antiwar activist during the days of the Vietnam War, actions which drew criticism from white and black people alike. But Dr. King, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, stayed true to his beliefs of nonviolence.
Glen Cove teacher David Smith, one of the day's two featured speakers, spoke, not surprisingly, about the importance of education. A teacher in the Glen Cove Schools for 25 years, Mr. Smith said he always stresses to his students to "do all you can to get the best education you can" and he encouraged adults to always talk to the children. The values of Martin Luther King the man were instilled in little Martin the child, said Mr. Smith and suggested that the way to honor Dr. King's memory was to cultivate lifelong values "beginning at home," adding that compassionate, caring youngsters will triumph in life. Parents should live by the Hippocratic Oath, he said: Above all, do no harm. And parents should always "raise the bar." Mr. Smith's address was peppered with applause.
Tuskegee Airman William Johnson was also a featured speaker. He recalled his ambition, supported by his family, to join the ranks of "a noble and daring experiment in the days when segregation and discrimination ran rampant." It was at the Tuskegee Airbase in Alabama that he met "men like me - black, ambitious and reaching for our dreams...I knew what I wanted, I worked, and I did it," he said. Mr. Johnson took his first solo flight in June of 1945. "I had reached for the clouds," he said, "and along the way I grabbed a few stars." However, returning to Long Island after the war, Mr. Johnson discovered that segregation did not belong only to the South. He found that Levittown houses were built and offered to veterans, but not black vets. The schools had "no black administrators, teachers or staff," he said. But men like Dr. King "opened the door" and made it possible for all young people to follow their dreams. "Things are better now," said Mr. Johnson.
Two original poems were read in honor of Dr. King, one by poet Victoria Crosby and one by Glen Cove High School student Britlin Losee. The Young Aspiring Artists offered a selection of dance, and music filled the auditorium from the Calvary AME Church Choir, the First Baptist Church Mass Choir and the Tones of Joy, in addition to the high school chorale. The church choirs brought the audience to their feet, hands clapping. Elder Clarence Johnson, pastor of the First Church of God in Christ, ended the celebration with a benediction, and led the audience in the traditional anthem We Shall Overcome, as all stood hand in hand, black and white together.