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Honoring MLK Jr. — for 35 years

  • Above, from left, storytellers and partners Eshu Bumpus and Motoko Dworkin, Amherst resident Barry Brooks and Onawumi Jean Moss, a storyteller and emeritus dean of students at Amherst College, chat before the 35th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday. Bumpus was the guest speaker at the program where there was also a special dedication to Brooks’ late wife, Judy Brooks, who was one of the founders of the MLK Jr. Committee of Amherst. Both Barry and Judy Brooks were recipients of the committee’s Citizens’ Award in 1990. Below, Amherst Regional Middle School co-principal Joseph Smith and his daughter, Gianluca Pica-Smith, 7, enjoy breakfast during the event. Smith received the 2019 Norma Jean Anderson Civil Rights and Academic Achievement Award during the second half of the program held in the auditorium. At bottom, Amherst Regional High School freshman Tristan Lewis-Schurter, right, takes a guitar solo while performing with the school’s jazz ensemble. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Regional Middle School Co-principal Joseph Smith and his daughter, Gianluca Pica-Smith, 7, enjoy breakfast during the the 35th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at the middle school on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. Smith received the 2019 Norma Jean Anderson Civil Rights and Academic Achievement Award during the second half of the program held in the auditorium. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Regional High School students, from left, sophomore CJ Wood-Fineholmes, senior Soul-Jah Ferreira and sophomore Darius Robinson serve juice to Matthew Spitzer, right, and his son Jonah, 6, during the 35th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. Jonah, a student at Wildwood Elementary School in Amherst, made one of the placemats for the breakfast. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Regional High School senior Will Borrell, right, takes a solo while performing with the school's jazz ensemble at the 35th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at the middle school on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Barry Brooks, left, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, center, and former State Sen. Stan Rosenberg chat during the 35th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. A special dedication was made during the program to honor Brooks' late wife, Judy Brooks, who died in July at age 74 and was one of the founders of the MLK Jr. Committee of Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Regional Middle School Co-principal Joseph Smith is the recipient of the 2019 Norma Jean Anderson Civil Rights and Academic Achievement Award. The award was presented to Smith by the Race and Discipline, Action, Rights, or RaDAR, Committee during the the 35th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at the middle school on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Eshu Bumpus and his partner, Motoko Dworkin, applaud the Amherst Regional High School Jazz Ensemble, introduced by former State Sen. Stan Rosenberg, at podium, during the 35th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at the middle school on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. Bumpus, a storyteller and vocalist, was the guest speaker at the event. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Regional High School freshman Tristan Lewis-Schurter, right, takes a guitar solo while performing with the school's jazz ensemble at the 35th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at the middle school on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Group picture during the 35th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast held at Amherst Regional Middle School on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



For the Bulletin
Sunday, January 27, 2019

AMHERST — Over plates of fresh fruit, waffles and tall glasses of orange juice, visitors to the Amherst Regional Middle School last Saturday morning celebrated the legacy and vision of late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the company of friends and neighbors.

In its 35th year, the annual MLK Community Breakfast brought area residents to a meal focused around building and maintaining a community of diversity and inclusion.

“It cuts across any demographic you can think about, really. Race, economic status, anything like that,” said chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Amherst Richmond Ampiah-Bonney. “This is a precious thing for me, this is a really precious thing for the community. It gives us a moment to refresh ourselves... and this is a space for people to do that.”

The program featured former state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, who served as master of ceremonies throughout, introducing the speakers and performing acts. But before moving into the auditorium for an award ceremony and continued celebration, breakfast was served table by table.

Food with friends

As the Amherst Regional High School Jazz Ensemble improvised over classic charts, community members in the middle school’s cafeteria drank coffee and mingled with one another.

Along with hundreds of community members, also in attendance at the breakfast was Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, along with state Senator Jo Comerford and state representative for the 3rd Hampshire District Mindy Domb.

Comerford said the breakfast was important to her since it promoted equity and solidarity between all groups of people in the community.

“This event is an institution unto itself. It’s one of the more important, I believe, community events that happen annually in our region,” Comerford said. “I think this is the best that our community is, the organizers of this have brought forward the very best.”

For Shannan Akosua-Magee, a Springfield resident working in Amherst who had recently returned from living in Ghana, seeing the energy of so many people coming together in pursuit of Dr. King’s dream 55 years later was a powerful statement.

“Amherst is one of those towns that I feel tries to actually enact the values [of Dr. King]; we try to breathe life into what those principles are,” Akosua-Magee said. “Although it’s still a journey, the town is still trying. And for that, I appreciate the efforts of this event.”

Though this was Akosua-Magee’s inaugural visit to the community breakfast, her observation of the event’s diverse attendance and the united commitment to Dr. King’s values was shared by many others.

William Harris, a resident of Amherst for around 30 years, said he comes to the MLK breakfast every single year. To him, maintaining unity in the community is one of the most important steps to realizing Dr. King’s ultimate goals.

Harris recounted his days working at Rutgers University as a dean of students in the 1960s, where he specifically remembers helping escort student protesters of the Vietnam War so violence and disorderly conduct did not break out.

The parallels between the social unrest of the 1960s and America’s divisive politics today are not coincidental, Harris said. The tendency of some politicians to stoke racial animus as a means of courting constituents is present throughout all of United States history, he explained.

“It’s the politics of division,” Harris said. “Rather than running to sway people to come together, [politicians] have to maintain support of the part of the population that they know will support them.”

The program eventually shifted from cooked sausages and full stomachs to a procession led by the jazz band from the cafeteria to the auditorium, where the main portion of the program was held.

“May we forever stand”

After those in attendance transitioned from the breakfast to their seats for the latter half of the event, participants were almost immediately greeted by more song.

The Amherst Area Gospel Choir led the audience in “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” with each verse becoming gradually more animated than the last. By the third verse, almost everyone was singing lyrics such as “May we forever stand, true to our God,” in unison.

The Crocker Farm Elementary School fourth grade chorus were next to sing, performing a birthday song addressed to Dr. King.

Storyteller and keynote speaker Eshu Bumpus recounted stories about his experience growing up in the Boston projects during the 1960s. Bumpus softly played the electric guitar while singing songs dedicated to Dr. King and the greater vision for inclusion in the United States.

Also recognized was the late Judy Brooks, a public servant and activist from Amherst whose mission was to build a community based on respect.

After more singing from the gospel choir, Ampiah-Bonney introduced the two winners of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, given to high school seniors who demonstrate academic excellence and a commitment to community service.

Adwoa Tawiah Ampiah-Bonney from Belchertown High School and Karrington Dowe from Amherst Regional High School both received scholarships.

The last award of the ceremony, the Norma Jean Anderson Civil Rights and Academic Achievement Award, was then presented by Ampiah-Bonney on behalf of the RaDAR Committee (Race and Discipline, Action, Rights).

The award, which was given to co-principal of Amherst Regional Middle School Joseph Smith, is meant to laud a local educator who promotes the ideals of a “just community” in school. In an interview with the Gazette before the ceremony, Smith said that he was humbled and honored to be chosen for the accolade.

“It’s an obvious statement, but what sometimes gets lost in the equation, is that I am here for all kids, but especially for kids who feel that they have been marginalized by structural and institutional racism,” Smith said.

To be considered for the award, a recipient must be nominated by someone in their life. In Smith’s case one of his students, 7th grader Darius Cage, wrote a letter nominating his principal. When he read the letter, Smith said that he had “a good cry.”

Cage said at the breakfast that he wanted Smith to be recognized because he always brought a calm demeanor to the halls of his middle school.

“He’s one of my favorite principals. He’s well rounded — he’s not too strict and he understands me,” Cage said. “He’s my skin color, he’s African-American and I think that’s very powerful.”

By the end of the event, almost four hours had passed — and Rosenberg left the audience with a small piece of advice that drove home the main focus of the breakfast.

“Go forth and do good things,” he said.