As snow fell silently outside the North Fork United Methodist Church in Cutchogue Sunday, cries of celebration could be heard inside, where the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force had organized an event to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.
Over 100 people gathered not only to remember the message Dr. King spoke of five decades ago, but also to continue spreading his beliefs today.
“All lives matter,” Valerie Shelby, Co-Chairperson of the Anti-Bias Task Force, said. “This event is important because it reminds us we still have a long way to go, but we’ve come far.”
The Anti-Bias Task Force was created in 1996 and is an official committee of Southold Town. The group is comprised of concerned citizens appointed by the Town Board. Its goal is to promote diversity, unity and understanding within the community.
A local event to celebrate the life and work of Dr. King is a 10-year tradition of the Task Force.
“We want to make sure everyone has a chance to be a part of this,” Ms. Shelby said. “It gets bigger and better every year.”
The Task Force tries to hold the event at different churches whenever possible in order for all people to feel welcome, but the event has grown tremendously and has gotten too big for certain-sized churches, Ms. Shelby said.
While 2015 was a tumultuous year across the nation with racial tensions running high, the event’s organizers wanted to make sure people of all races and religious backgrounds participated in Sunday’s celebration. There was music, singing and dancing inspired by the fiery, local contemporary gospel group Jus B’cuz, whose songs have a common theme of love and togetherness.
Poems written by sixth grade students from Southold Elementary School were read aloud, sending the message that words are mightier than violence.
Methodist Rev. Tom MacLeod, Jewish Rabbi Gadi Capela, and Presbyterian Rev. Tracie Saunders all spoke with one common message in common — to spread unity.
Rev. Saunders was the keynote speaker of the event. Ann ordained minister and assistant Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Southold, she’s a practicing anesthesiologist, a professor at SUNY Stony Brook University Medical Center, an author and a mom. She said she recognizes that the efforts of Dr. King — and those who fought for civil rights before and after him — have allowed her to accomplish as much as she has.
“We are blessed to be here because of the things people like him did,” Rev. Saunders said. “We know what Dr. King’s message is, so what’s yours?”
Greenport resident Lakisha Darden, who attended the event, had an answer to Rev. Saunders’ question.
“We have to start off with love,” she said. “And a lot of us just don’t love each other enough.”
Top caption: Rev. Tracie Saunders speaks at Sunday’s Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force MLK Day ceremony. (Credit: Emily Greenberg)