Be thankful for progress.
That was the message at Sunday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Orient, where community members gathered at the congregational church to remember the slain civil rights leader.
The Rev. Dr. H.G. McGhee, pastor at First Baptist Church of Bridgehampton and the keynote speaker at the annual event, told the crowd that although there’s tragedy in everyday life, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an opportunity to reflect on Dr. King’s vision.
“I’ve come to advocate here today that you ought to be thankful,” the Rev. McGhee preached as organ music played softly in the background. “This is the day where little white boys and little black boys join hands and shout: ‘Free at last. Free at last. Thank God, almighty, we are free at last.’”
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell was also a guest speaker at the event, which was sponsored by the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force. Other local elected officials in attendance were Southold Town Councilman Bob Ghosio, Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski and Congressman Lee Zeldin.
Mr. Zeldin was asked to say a few words during the event and expressed his gratitude for Dr. King’s inspirational “Mountaintop” speech.
“He lived a life many people aspire to live for themselves,” Mr. Zeldin said. “I’m thankful for Dr. Martin Luther King because in those words, ‘I rose to the mountaintops,’ he brought the rest of us with him.”
Mr. Zeldin described Sunday’s event as “an important reminder that while the dream still lives and has not yet been fully achieved, there has been important progress.”
“It’s very obvious from spending a little time in this room that [Dr. King] impacted everyone in many significant ways, both personally and as Americans,” he said.
Greenport High School honor student Julesiah Atkins read an excerpt of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the choir ended the ceremony with “We Shall Overcome,” as participants held hands and sang along.
Susan Dingle, a member of the task force, said her group has held celebrations to honor Martin Luther King Jr. for the past 15 years and Sunday marked the second year in a row that her group organized the event at the church in Orient.
“[Martin Luther King Jr Day] means an opportunity to reconnect with a dream that we all have,” she said. “And that’s what I think happened here today.”