SCHENECTADY -- Robert Frazier grew up in Alabama, about two hours from Martin Luther King Jr.'s home in Atlanta.
In 1964, Frazier moved to Schenectady, where he lived with his wife, Rev. Eloise Frazier. Eloise became active in social and civil rights issues in the community, and in 1987, she created the Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition, a group focused on continuing the civil rights icon’s legacy on a local level.
“She was a big inspiration to me,” Robert Frazier said of his wife, who died in 2014. “When I found out what the coalition was all about and what she was trying to do for the community and city to make it better -- because that’s what Rev. King was all about was making things better -- I supported her in that effort.”
Schenectady’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and will mark the occasion with an event Sunday at Proctors. Those who have been part of the organization over the decades have seen it grow and speak to its importance in addressing community issues. They also recognize certain social issues are as prevalent as ever, and they hope to see the coalition expand its reach.
The coalition is an offshoot of the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission and is relatively small, consisting of five volunteer members.
Angelicia Morris, executive director of the Human Rights Commission, has worked closely with the MLK Coalition over the years. She views it as a potential catalyst for change and a way to advance the legacy of both King and Eloise Frazier.
Over the past 30 years, the group has evolved and sought to expand its role in the community. Morris said the coalition went from hosting one annual event each January to organizing more community forums as social issues arise throughout the year.
In June, following a mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub, the coalition hosted a community vigil. In addition to its planned Sunday celebration, the group also hosted a panel discussion Thursday night about the importance of education.
The coalition has always focused on addressing social issues, civil rights and human rights, Morris said. Though the group was founded 30 years ago, issues of poverty, education, equality and housing persist in Schenectady.
“These issues are not only impacting people on the national level but locally,” Morris said. “The coalition is being a catalyst to talk about these issues and keep the issues on the forefront.”
Given the coalition’s size and the breadth of issues it seeks to address, collaboration is critical to its success, said Karim Adeen-Hasan, a coalition member who previously served on the Human Rights Commission as well.
“We can’t solve all the problems, but at least we can partner with people hoping to address those problems,” he said. “You have to have advocates in the community that can help address issues. Communities have to work together to make positive change.”
Members also talk about the importance of incorporating younger community members. Morris said she hopes to see the coalition expand its membership and engage with the city’s younger residents to get them involved and help them achieve their goals.
“They are the leaders of tomorrow, and if we don’t empower them to do better, to bring about change, then we fail ourselves,” Morris said.
Robert Frazier echoed that sentiment, saying the group's longevity depends on getting young people involved in the coalition.
He reflected on the state of social justice and civil rights issues and said he believes there’s been significant progress since he was growing up in the Deep South. In order to continue that, he said he’d like to see more minority leaders step up in addressing community issues and even run for political office.
Morris pointed to the recent election cycle, which saw plenty of divisive rhetoric but also an increased focus on issues of race, equality and social justice. She said she hopes the coalition can keep those conversations going well into the future.
“It’s very important the MLK Coalition is still around for another 30 years and is continuing to sound the alarm on social justice, civil rights and human rights issues,” she said. “It’s about acting to keep Dr. King’s dream alive and keep his legacy alive.”
Events in the Capital Region recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day:
- The Schenectady Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition will host a 30th anniversary celebration at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at Proctors. The event will feature keynote speaker Steve Perry, an author and educator. The theme is “Empower. Educate. Embrace.”
- There will be a discussion and presentation from 2-4 p.m. Sunday at the Saratoga Springs Public Library about the legacy of slavery and lingering effects of present-day racism.
- “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Healing America” will be presented from 2-4 p.m. on Monday at the Saratoga Music Hall, located on the third floor of City Hall.