Pictured Above: (l-r) Candace Hall, Rev. Natalie Wimberly, Liz Welch, Anne Smith and Brian Mealy discuss fostering a Beloved Community at Southold Town’s Jan. 14 Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of the power of peaceful protest carries extra poignancy this year in a political climate fraught with the prospect of political violence.
As a national poll by the Public Religion Research Institute in October of 2023 showed 25 percent of Americans believe “patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country,” a Beloved Community of Southold residents gathered Sunday night to pledge their commitment to Dr. King’s message of non-violence.
“Because Dr. King took a nonviolent approach, people all across the world could become a part. People are still united and have the gained courage to keep moving along,” Rev. Marc Thompson of Unity Baptist Church in Mattituck told the crowd that had braved an icy wind to gather in fellowship at the Peconic Lane Recreation Center.
The annual event, organized by the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force, this year centered around the theme of “Shifting the Cultural Climate Through the Study and Practice of “Kingian” Non-Violence.”
“What if Martin King was a militant?” inquired Rev. Thompson. “I believe things would have turned out totally different in Washington” on the hot August 1963 day Dr. King gave his famous speech about his dream of unity for a future in which people would be judged not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character.
“I believe he saw us having a Black President, and a female, Black Vice President,” he added. “He did things his way because it was the right thing to do…. As we sit here tonight, combined as churches, synagogues and mosques, we cannot deny the dark illustrations from our nation’s past. Dr. King knew it (his approach) would help decrease violence, and would help motivate us to be fair to each other… He believed if we were taught better, then we would do better.”
Southold Town Councilman Brian Mealy, the first ever African-American member of the Town Board, reminded the crowd that his faith and family gave him the strength to do his work.
“If I did not have the covering of family and faith, I couldn’t have made it,” said Mr. Mealy, who faced down numerous personal attacks in his first campaign for office more than two years ago. “With the armor of the Lord I can withstand it. I have the grit, and I can deal with it. I’ve been blessed.”
“I’m glad that I have the character to do what I have to do,” he said, adding that Southold Town, in his mind, “is an example of the Beloved Community.”
Mr. Mealy called to the stage several people who have helped knit this community together, including Rev. Natalie Wimberly of Clinton Memorial AME Zion Church in Greenport; Liz Welch, a co-founder of a local chapter of Coming to the Table; Greenport Village Clerk Candace Hall; his fellow Town Board members Jill Doherty and Anne Smith, former Anti-Bias Task Force Member Christopher North, who is now a member of the town’s Police Advisory Committee, and Southold Town Clerk Denis Noncarrow.
He asked them to share their thoughts on how the work they’re doing is helping maintain a Beloved Community.
“Connecting with each other, no matter what we’re working on,” said Ms. Smith.
Rev. Wimberly said that she prays and hopes the work she does builds community, and not only does it build community “but it celebrates our diversity, and not only does it celebrate our diversity but it honors and recognizes the uniqueness that each of us bring to the table so in fact the Beloved Community does not just become an idea or an ideal but it becomes a reality.”
“Investing in our children is the biggest investment anyone can make,” said Ms. Hall, urging attendees to help organizations that are investing in kids.
“I open doors for others,” she added. “I walk through them and I leave them open so others like me can walk through them.”
Ms. Doherty said she’s been honored for the past 12 years to be the voice of the people on the Town Board.
“The best part is being able to listen to everyone and get the work done together,” she said, adding that it was amazing that the town had to keep bringing out more chairs for community members who showed up for the event.
Mr. North said he was proud of the work he’d done with the Anti-Bias Task Force to bring “Synergy,” a community conversation with its police department, to Southold, and his work on the town’s Police Advisory Committee.
“You just have to love people, no matter what,” said Mr. Noncarrow, his voice choked with emotion.
Ms. Welch said the racial healing work she’s doing in the community “gives me faith, and makes me feel like I’m part of a really special community.”
Coming to the Table, which holds meetings for the community at Clinton Memorial on the second Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m., is a national movement dedicated to truth, justice and healing, initially formed by black, white and mixed-race descendants of Thomas Jefferson, said Nicki Gohorel, one of the leaders of the local chapter.
The group is dedicated to uncovering history, making authentic connections, working toward healing and taking action to dismantle systems of oppression. Ms. Gohorel and Ms. Welch urged members of the public to join them in the community conversation.
Rev. Wimberly, who gave the invocation, asked the crowd to make a commitment to honor Dr. King’s sacrifice of committing himself to a movement while knowing full well that he could, and eventually would be murdered.
“Never abandon those who stand up for truth and righteousness in the world,” she said. “Teach us to love all men and women as our brothers and sisters, and to care as much about their welfare as we do our own.”
“One of the most special moments in Greenport was when Rev. Natalie held the community together for us at the (George) Floyd memorial, and we filled the streets,” said Greenport Mayor Kevin Stuessi. “That’s what this community is about: Bringing people together, people of all backgrounds…. Candace said it best, about opening doors for others… We’ve gotta work hard, and there is no time to waste.”
“If we want our children and others to practice non-violence, we must be the example. What if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became fearful and moved out of the way, just like the enemy demanded,” asked Rev. Thompson in the final words of his address. “I won’t answer that question. I’ll leave that up to you.”
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