In Hartford, a celebration of MLK’s legacy and a message: ‘We are nowhere near the finish line’ in achieving his dream

Archbishop LeRoy Bailey, Jr., senior pastor and CEO of The First Cathedral, Bloomfield, said that he credits two people with being the reason he is the person he is today: his grandmother and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday, Bailey, speaking as part of an event attended by more than 100 people at the Greater Hartford Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Mt. Olive Church Ministries, 20 Battles St., shared his story of meeting King’s father,

Bailey said that he met Martin Luther King Sr. at Mt. Olive Church Ministries in the 60s and 70s, by invitation of his predecessor the Rev. Dick Battles. Bailey said he also had the privilege to hear King, Jr. as a young person.

“Daddy King said to me, ‘where is your church?’ We were at 700 Blue Hills Ave. at the time,” Bailey said Sunday. “He said, well I’m going to spend the day with you. He took me and mentored me and strengthened my faith and hope and gave me a charge and a vision.”

The alliance that celebrated King Monday is a coalition of local churches in the Greater Hartford area that are committed to serving the community, in part through providing scholarships to college students and advocacy work.

During the celebration, the alliance gave four drum major awards in honor of King Jr. in the categories of religion, politics, community, and education. Bailey received the drum major award for religion.

Each of the awardees spoke of how they hope to follow the legacy and dream that King had.

Drum Major Awardee for Politics Bloomfield Mayor Danielle Wong said that she learned from King’s historical sermon, which he preached two days before he was assassinated, about the drum major instinct - the desire to be out front and lead the parade. She recalls him warning his congregation that this instinct leads to “self importance, snobbish behavior, and prejudice.”

“Like King, I believe that shallow things don’t matter. And if I am to be remembered as a drum major in politics, let me be remembered as a drum major of government and equity, and remembered for the deeds, the results, and the righteous endeavors, versus the achievements,” Wong said.

Wong also said that while leadership is hard, she still believes local government is where people can make the most impact, saying she has been a drum major in Bloomfield for closing and correcting the wage gap for Black women, because Black women make cents on the dollar in comparison to their white counterparts, and leading the charge of analyzing the town’s procurement practices, so they can now make decisions, based on equity through a lens of economic justice as King strived for.

“Let me also be remembered as a drum major for addressing the middle income and the low income housing crisis that has plagued our state. And lastly, let me be remembered for being a drum major for labor because I have fought for and prioritize the trades for major construction projects in Bloomfield and in the Greater Hartford region. It is an absolute honor to serve our great community in which I grew up and God willing, I will continue to serve in this position as a servant leader like Dr. King,” she said.

Drum Major Awardee for Community Honorable Eric D. Coleman, who has also recently announced his bid to become Hartford’s next mayor, said that he believes that it is time for rededication and recommitment to King’s dream.

“As I think about today and the dreamer, his dream, and being inspired and motivated by Dr. King. I strongly suspect he would be disappointed and very disturbed by the condition that prevails today…Dr. King was a personal man...and today we see immigrants and refugees blocked at our borders and transported, like ping pong balls from one state to another state, rejected…,” Coleman said.

“Dr. King was a man of peace. He’d be deeply disturbed by the violence, the gun violence. Young people shooting one another in the streets, often times in broad daylight in the last two weeks,” he said. “But Dr. King would be disappointed in all of us if we did not rededicate ourselves and we commit ourselves...and play whatever role that we can possibly play, individually and collectively, in order to write the situation that prevails in this country and in the world.”

Drum Major Awardee for Education Kitsia Ferguson, of Capital Preparatory Magnet School, said that in thinking about the life of King, her job is to make sure her students understand his complexities and not look at his day as a one dimensional event, but to raise the concerns and understand what it took for King to become the legend he is today.

“And in the field of education, our job is to cultivate the same environment for our kids to see themselves, not only in the past, but to see how they’re going to live the past in moving forward,” she said. “So when I’m called the drum major, I take that manner wholeheartedly. I do see the work as being uplifting and to uplift our students in our community.

“We’ve come a long way, but we are nowhere near the finish line. If we don’t continue to beat the drum to make sure that we understand what the community needs to get to where it’s trying to go, on these days like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day…[it is] a perfect example that has been that we really need to push. It’s all of our responsibility,” she said.

Keynote Speaker Capital Preparatory founder Dr. Steve Perry told those gathered that while King was alive, he was not well liked by many — as he challenged and fought against the power structure, as he chose to advocate and support poor individuals, especially through the Poor Peoples Campaign.

“What Dr. King did was he challenged the subconsciousness of a culture. He pushed us to think differently about ourselves and our brothers. He redefined what the family was and most importantly, challenged power,” he said.

He also spoke of how King would not appreciate some of things going on within the community today.

“King would not have appreciated naming a school after him, that fails to educate your kids. He would not name a street in the hood after himself, only to put more poor people on that street,” he said.

“I’m tired of fighting for what I should have had at birth. And these here, United States, the fact that today, we still [have] got to fight to get Black and Latino kids into good schools. That’s a thing still? They are tired of being tired. King said I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he said.

Lastly, he challenged the congregation to stand with those who are working to make a positive difference, while holding those accountable who stand in the way of the community making progress.

“We’re here to celebrate Dr. King. What we have to do is recognize is that he existed to break the back of the power structure’s the people who keep the system in place to make sure that things don’t happen the way that they’re supposed to happen,” he said.