Freedom rings out at Southold’s MLK Day celebration

The Rev. Milton Vann, pastor of Jefferson Temple Church of God in Christ in Cutchogue, had a straightforward message at Sunday’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Celebration.

Speaking to a large group seated in the Peconic Lane recreation center as the event’s keynote speaker, the Rev. Vann asked everyone in a passionate voice to stand up for diversity and inclusion and to honor Dr. King’s message of love and dedication to non-violence.

He told a story of when Dr. King was a child and went with his father, Martin Luther King Sr., to a shoe store in Atlanta. 

“The clerk told them to go sit in the back of the store,” the pastor said. “Martin Luther King Sr. refused and said, ‘We will either buy shoes sitting here, or we won’t buy them at all.’ ”

The father later told his son, “I will never accept this system, and [change] starts with me.”

In his stirring talk, his voice rising and falling to applause in the audience, the Rev. Vann said, “I stand here not just as a Black man, but as a man of faith. I stand against inequality, I stand against injustice, I stand against division.”

He spoke as part of the Southold Anti-Bias Task Force’s celebration of Dr. King’s life and message. Nationwide, Monday was a national holiday recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

A number of other speakers took the podium Sunday, including Rabbi Barbara Sheryll of North Fork Reform Synagogue in Cutchogue, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell and Greenport Village Mayor George Hubbard.

Rabbi Sheryll said: “Change starts with all of us. Our community has a mindset to transform and do justice … Judaism teaches humility to remind us to be mindful and return to God … And everything was created for all of us. We act honorably by practicing mercy.”

Mr. Russell, who over the years has spoken glowingly of the work of the Anti-Bias Task Force as something he is very proud of, said he was speaking on MLK Day for the last time as supervisor.

“In their hearts, people believe in diversity and mutual respect,” he said. “But sometimes they say, ‘Someone else will take care of it. I’m busy. I don’t have time for this, but I am behind what you do.’ What is power? It’s knowing what you want to do and taking the steps to get it done until you reach the desired result.

“Look around,” he added. “Ask yourself, ‘How can I make a difference today?’ … This will be the last time I address you as supervisor of this town. It has been an absolute honor to participate in this event.”

Mr. Hubbard spoke of joining the village fire department decades ago, when it was solidly all white. “This morning when I was at training, I saw Black, Hispanic people and women as well. We are all together … Greenport has changed for the better and is more inclusive.”

Faith Welch, a student at Greenport school, read an excerpt from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which ends this way: 

“… when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, Black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.”