By Stefanie Jackson – The Eastern Shore has celebrated Community Unity Day on Martin Luther King Jr. Day every year for more than three decades, and even though COVID-19 prevented participants from gathering in the Northampton High School cafeteria Monday morning for breakfast and fellowship, people still connected online and over the airwaves to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
“Together, We Can Make a Difference for All” was the theme of Community Unity Day 2021.
The virtual celebration was divided in two parts: Northampton County Public Schools students participated online via Zoom on Friday evening, Jan. 15, and community members spoke during a WESR radio broadcast on Monday morning, Jan. 18.
It was the students’ time to shine Friday night, whether they recited the words of Martin Luther King Jr. or sang, danced, or played musical selections inspired by his life. Participating students included:
• Keira Allen, daughter of an ACCESS College advisor
• James Thomas Applegate, Northampton High School
• Destiny Carrington, Northampton High School
• Avani Bell-Savage, Kiptopeke Elementary School
• Paris Brown, Kiptopeke Elementary School
• Kassidy Johnson, Occohannock Elementary School •
Samrit Kaur, Kiptopeke Elementary School •
Dajerilyz Ortiz, Northampton Middle School
• Nixie Ortiz, Kiptopeke Elementary School
• Billy Pike, Kiptopeke Elementary School
• Jeanette Pike, Kiptopeke Elementary School
• Madison Jane Pisarcik, Cape Charles Christian School
• LaKiyah Bell-Savage, Kiptopeke Elementary School
• Lianna Smith, Kiptopeke Elementary School
• Cherish Upshur, Kiptopeke Elementary School
• Abigail Zodun, Northampton Middle School
• Members of the Northampton High School Band
During the radio broadcast, Joan Wilson, of Painter, thanked King for his support of freedom of choice for schools. Wilson embraced the opportunity to attend integrated schools and graduated from the Norfolk General Hospital School of Nursing. She was the only Black student in her graduating class.
Wilson also was the first Black registered nurse at the Northampton-Accomack Memorial Hospital in Nassawadox, where she managed a 31-bed medical surgical unit and was a relief supervisor.
“I thank Dr. King for opening the doors for me and many,” she said. “I want to encourage all young people that their dream is possible.”
Karen Downing, of the Accomack NAACP, said that “this time of so much unrest in our country” reminded her of King’s words, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
“Here we are in 2021, and this is still a very relevant message for all of us today,” she said.
The Rev. Rick Willis, of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Onancock, shared another Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound onto the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Camesha Handy, of the Accomack NAACP and Living Word Church of Deliverance, Parksley, shared “five amazing facts” about Martin Luther King Jr.:
• He was born Michael King Jr. on Jan. 15, 1929. His father, a pastor, changed both his and son’s name in 1934 to Martin Luther after the leader of the Protestant Reformation.
• Martin Luther King Jr. skipped two years of high school and entered college at age 15.
• He was jailed nearly 30 times in his life. Reasons for the arrests included civil disobedience and driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone.
• Martin Luther King Jr. was the only non-U.S.-President to have a national holiday named after him and a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
• His “I Have a Dream” speech was originally titled “Normalcy: Never Again.” The speech that was made famous at the March on Washington in 1963 was prompted when singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to King, “Tell them about the dream!”
Both speech titles are still relevant today, because “America cannot go back,” Handy said. “It cannot go back to normal.”
“We should use 2020 as a guide. … Let’s forget those things that are behind and reach forth towards those things which are ahead,” she said.
“Let us work together today in unity, let us work in kindness, let us work in transparency, let us work in humility, and the greatest of these – let us work in love for a better day and an even better tomorrow.”
The 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations were supported by the Accomack and Northampton County branches of the NAACP, Northampton County Public Schools, and Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore.