Schenectady County

King’s struggle is highlighted

The commissioner of the state Division for Human Rights will talk about the urgent need to continue
PHOTOGRAPHER:

The commissioner of the state Division for Human Rights will talk about the urgent need to continue the civil rights movement on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Commissioner Kumiki Gibson will deliver the keynote address at the King Day celebration from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday in the Convention Center of the Empire State Plaza in Albany.

The Albany event is the largest celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the Capital Region, but there are many other local events planned on Sunday and Monday to honor the civil rights leader who was killed by a gunman 40 years ago.

“Discrimination is alive and well in America and New York state,” Gibson said Friday during a telephone conversation from her Bronx office.

Brown is the Harvard-educated litigator and civil rights advocate whom Gov. Eliot Spitzer named the state’s human rights commissioner last year. She has been credited with revitalizing the state Division of Human Rights over the past year.

The two-hour program at the Empire State Plaza, at which Spitzer will also give brief remarks, is considered one of the largest events of its kind in the upstate region, said Abigail Gardner, a member of the governor’s staff.

“It’s a big day for New York state and a big day for the governor’s office,” Gardner said.

“We are very excited about the event,” she said. She said this is the 23rd annual King Day celebration in Albany.

Gibson said she will talk about the need for a strong civil rights movement in New York state and the nation.

But Gibson said this civil rights movement looks different from the one that Martin Luther King Jr. led 40 years ago. She said the new movement includes African Americans as well as women, gays, lesbians, the families of the military and ex-offenders.

Gibson said she will talk about living up to King’s ideals.

“Martin Luther King Jr. was the greatest patriot,” Gibson said. “He believed in America; he bought into the dream.”

She said King believed that America and the U.S. Constitution made a promise: “We will get a fair shot if we play by the rules.”

Gibson said that in many places, this is still not the case. She said parts of New York state, according to a recent study, have some of the highest segregation rates in the nation. These areas include the New York City metropolitan area, Buffalo and Rochester.

The Empire State Plaza celebration, which will be held in the Convention Center on the plaza’s concourse level, will include music, marching and singing. A host of religious leaders from a variety of faiths will participate, as will local officials.

Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings will introduce Gibson, and Albany County Executive Michael Breslin will welcome the audience, which is expected to include about 2,000 people of all ages.

“Last year, we had freezing rain and still had a good turnout,” said Brad Maione, a spokesman for the state Office of General Services.

Maione said that at the end of the Empire State Plaza ceremony, participants will march to the Martin Luther King Jr. monument in nearby Lincoln Park for another brief ceremony.

Other holiday observances and events in the Capital Region will include the following:

Neil Yetwin, a noted civil rights historian who has taught at Schenectady High School for 24 years, will be the keynote speaker at Schenectady County’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at 2 p.m. Sunday. The event starts with a march from Veterans Park, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Yetwin will speak at the First United Methodist Church at 603 State St. Yetwin has published more than 100 articles on the civil rights movement.

Claudia Highbaugh, an authority on the civil rights movement and dean of religious and spiritual life at Connecticut College, will talk about “Reflections on the Movement” at 7 p.m. Monday in Skidmore College’s Gannett Auditorium on North Broadway in Saratoga Springs.

Tony Award nominee Calvin Levels will perform his solo play, “James Baldwin: Down from the Mountain,” at 7 p.m. Monday in the Nott Memorial at Union College in Schenectady. The play is part of Union’s Presidential Forum on Diversity and caps a day-long celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Workshops, speeches, student performances, a job fair and free lunch will be part of the “Voting Rights for All” Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration Monday at 10 a.m. at the Thomas O’Brien Academy for Science and Technology at 94 Delaware Ave. in Albany. The event is free and open to the public.

Students in grades 6 through 12 will be participating in an essay-writing program based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The “Realize the Dream” essays will be recognized during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday at the Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, the 21st annual public lecture in the Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series on Race and Nonviolent Social Change will be presented in the Alumni Recreation Center at Siena College in Loudonville. Dr. Bernice Reagon, an educator and singer and founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock, will give the lecture.

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