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Five receive awards at MLK Jr. celebration

  • Kathleen Anderson, left, Yasmina Mattison, Ramona East and Ingrid Askew, all of Amherst, chat after the meal at the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturda.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Kathleen Anderson, left, Yasmina Mattison, Ramona East and Ingrid Askew, all of Amherst, chat after the meal at the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturda.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Handmade artwork decorates the walls of Amherst Regional Middle School at the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held on Saturday, January 9, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Handmade artwork decorates the walls of Amherst Regional Middle School at the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held on Saturday, January 9, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Handmade placemats await guests on the table at the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Handmade placemats await guests on the table at the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ron Bell of Amherst, left, greets Alice Swift of Amherst at the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ron Bell of Amherst, left, greets Alice Swift of Amherst at the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • A large crowd attended the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    A large crowd attended the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Monica Cage, left, Vira Cage, Carlie Tartakou and Michael Mongeau, all of Amherst, share lively conversation during the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Monica Cage, left, Vira Cage, Carlie Tartakou and Michael Mongeau, all of Amherst, share lively conversation during the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ellen Story, left, Rebecca Frike, center, Elizabeth Bell, right, and Ron Bell, front, all of Amherst, enjoy conversation during the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ellen Story, left, Rebecca Frike, center, Elizabeth Bell, right, and Ron Bell, front, all of Amherst, enjoy conversation during the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kathleen Anderson, left, Yasmina Mattison, Ramona East and Ingrid Askew, all of Amherst, chat after the meal at the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturda.<br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Handmade artwork decorates the walls of Amherst Regional Middle School at the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held on Saturday, January 9, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Handmade placemats await guests on the table at the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Ron Bell of Amherst, left, greets Alice Swift of Amherst at the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • A large crowd attended the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Monica Cage, left, Vira Cage, Carlie Tartakou and Michael Mongeau, all of Amherst, share lively conversation during the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Ellen Story, left, Rebecca Frike, center, Elizabeth Bell, right, and Ron Bell, front, all of Amherst, enjoy conversation during the 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, January 9, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

As the nation prepared to swear in its first black president for a second term, more than 200 people gathered at the 29th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast Saturday morning at Amherst Regional Middle School. The mood was upbeat as regulars and newcomers shared a hot meal and friendly conversation while being entertained by the Amherst Regional High School Jazz Band.

“This is a very nice turnout,” said event organizer Richmond Ampiah-Bonney. After breakfast, the crowd moved into the auditorium for an awards ceremony with poetry, music and dance.

State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg and state Rep. Ellen Story, both of Amherst, shared master of ceremonies duties.

“This year we are coming together on the verge of the presidential inauguration where we will swear in the first African-American president for his second term,” Rosenberg said. “Wouldn’t Martin Luther King be happy to see this happening on his birthday!” The crowd was entertained by the Common School Chorus directed by K.C. Conlan, the Wildwood STARS dancers and the Hope Community Church Choir. Under the direction of Taylor Middleton, it brought people to their feet with a rousing and jubilant version of “I Made My Vow To The Lord.”

Amherst Regional High School seniors Regina East and Ana Sophia Semedo received the Martin Luther King Academic Scholarship Awards.

East, whose father died when she was 15, said she “refused to let that dark moment break her down” but instead called on her drive and determination to succeed and to help those in the community.

Charri Boykin-East said she was overcome with pride in her daughter, who she described as “hard-working and dedicated.”

“Our family was devastated when we lost my husband. Through everything, Regina kept going. She has a part-time job, she is a member of several clubs, and she has made the honor roll every year,” Boykin-East said.

East also will be one of the first exchange students from Amherst Regional to go to Senegal and Gambia this year.

Semedo said that she “cherished” her award and would use the words and teachings of King as a way to “stay strong and fight for what we believe in.” Semedo’s mother, Sandra Verela, who grew up in Portugal, said seeing her daughter receive the award was an emotional moment for her. “I am very proud. I think this award will help to make her stronger, and to keep her going forward.”

Established in 2012, the Mary Pittman Wyatt Scholarship Award goes to a student whose work reflects the spirit of Wyatt’s dedication to education and the welfare of children. Wyatt, a co-founder of the breakfast, died in November 2011.

This year’s award was presented to Belchertown High School senior Morgan O’Connor, who said she was proud to receive it. “The people presenting the award said that Mary would have chosen Morgan because like Mary, she is a person who just quietly does her work and isn’t interested in accolades,” said Kathleen O’Connor, Morgan’s mother. “I am very proud of her.”

Amherst Regional Dean of Students Mary Custard and special education teacher Momodou Sarr received the Norma Jean Anderson Civil Rights and Academic Achievement Award, which recognizes educators who promote the ideals of a just and respectful community built on compassionate relationships.

“I love this event,” said Martha Faison, who has been a member of the organizing committee for more than 20 years. “I think over the years we have really broadened our scope and it has become a much more multicultural event.”

The ceremony concluded with the crowd clasping hands and singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “We Shall Overcome” as Story accompanied them on the piano.

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