By Naeisha Rose
At a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration held at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center on Monday, guests, performers and elected officials looked back at the work of the civil rights leader, while also using the center’s stage to touch upon current issues in the hope of ensuring the future of southeast Queens residents.
The Rev. Dr. Valerie Oliver-Durrah was the mistress of ceremonies for the event, at 153-10 Jamaica Ave., and she reflected on King’s stance on prejudice during the civil rights era by quoting him.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good,” Oliver-Durrah said.
Despite being a minister at the age of 26 in Alabama, King refused to stay silent during the Montgomery bus boycott that was sparked by the peaceful resistance of Rosa Parks, who became a symbol of the civil rights movement, according to keynote speaker Roger Toussaint.
King also fought for the rights of Memphis sanitation workers who went on strike on March 18, 1968, over that city’s lack of response after two garbage collectors were crushed to death a month earlier in a malfunctioning truck, said Toussaint, the former president of the Transport Workers Union, who led a bus and subway strike in 2005.
Throughout his lifetime, King worked tirelessly to bring about racial equality among blacks and whites so that in the future that kids of all backgrounds can enjoy the same freedoms, Durrah said as she brought up 11 kids from the audience to ask them trivia about King.
After the kids left the stage, singer Katherine Guy gave an uplifting performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
The Rev. Tracey Johnson, Petula Beckles and Andrew Clarke performed moving gospel solos.
Later in the evening, elected officials spoke about King, his legacy and pressing issues facing southeast Queens and New York.
“Dr. King said that all men and women could be great, because all men and women could serve,” said Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans). “It’s time when our humanity is being challenged that we look to Dr. King, his inspiration, and his life as a template as a model that he has set for us in the days that we are challenged.”
Miller’s remarks were a reference to President Donald Trump’s recent statements calling some predominantly black countries “s—hole.” The councilman also urged the audience to use a cable provider other than Spectrum, whose workers are on strike.
“The strike has been going on for 10 months,” Miller said. “About 10 percent are from this community right here!”
After his speech, students from the Edge School of the Arts in Laurelton danced and tapped as the school’s movie musical “4 Little Girls,” which had Miller in a cameo, played in the background.
The movie refers to the death of four girls, 11 to 14, who were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham in 1963, according to the school’s director, Kerri Edge.
State Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) praised parents in the audience for bringing their children to the event.
“This is not a day off,” Hyndman said. “It’s a day to educate [children] about the legacy that we need to make sure that we keep fulfilling.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose