Instead of a march, the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission is taking a more somber approach to commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year.
Participants will gather in Veterans Park at 2 p.m. Sunday to listen to the entire 17-minute recording of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Then they will walk over to First United Methodist Church on State Street, where they will be exhorted to do more than just remember the past.
Now, they must act, said commission Chairwoman Angelicia Morris.
University at Albany professor Leonard Slade will give the keynote address, discussing both his memories of working on civil rights with King and what is left to be done.
“This year, we’re doing something different,” Morris said. “We have to remember Dr. King and what his dream was for America, but yet, not only celebrating, but we have to go out and act upon it.”
In that vein, the commission will take on heavy topics this year in forums designed to draw a wider audience to debate controversial issues.
“We decided to tackle the controversial issues. Such as the LGBT stuff. Certain people didn’t want to talk about that,” Morris said.
The commission has held several forums on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, the most recent last fall. The goal, Morris said, was to “solve the tension between the LGBT community and the faith-based community.”
The Rev. Ted Ward, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, briefly resigned in protest over the national organization’s decision to consider same-sex marriage a civil right last year. Prominent locals were divided on the issue, but Morris said education has helped bridge the divide.
“Now they’re informed. Now they’re taking action. Now we’re seeing other agencies embracing them,” she said.
This year, the commission will hold forums on poverty and related issues.
“Job employment, low-income housing, affirmative action, disability, there’s so many issues we can talk about,” Morris said.
The goal is to “foster mutual respect, to inform, educate and make the community aware of the relevant issues in the community,” she said.
She’s also hoping county residents will begin to see the commission as a resource. Along with offering educational events, the commission can file discrimination complaints with the state Human Rights Commission.
“We can fight on their behalf,” Morris said.