Martin Luther King breakfast in Hollis touts messages of hope, inclusion

HOLLIS – During the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, held for the 30th year on Monday, Jan. 20, the need for African-American youth to carry King’s message to future generations became a common theme.

The event speakers, ranging from Gov. Maggie Hassan to keynote speaker Minister E. “Ray” Ealy, talked of acknowledging hope, working together and the need to continue on the path of progress.

The call to youth began with a comment by Linda Gathright, a founder and chairwoman of Nashua’s Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity, the Jan. 20 event’s sponsor, who noted that she was “tired,” and hoped young Americans would heed her call to spread the message in future years.

Among the crowd of more than 150 at the Alpine Grove Banquet Facility were dozens of teens and younger children, listening to a message that has helped build a history for an event that has spanned three decades.

Jay Jackson, of Nashua, who said he has attended the breakfast about 10 times, found value in that message.

“This brings more clarity and more understanding, in that Dr. King was not just for African-Americans, but for equality for all,” Jackson said.

The breakfast first began as a means to push for support at making King’s birthday a holiday in the state, with New Hampshire as the last state to adopt it 14 years ago.

In listening to the different speakers, though, Jackson recognized how a major theme was “for the youth to stay positive and be encouraged while being a positive force in your community.”

A number of attendees recalled coming to the breakfast almost every year.

For Nashua resident Cookie High, the benefits from making it year after year is that it “gives you more incentive to carry on, and to get the youth involved. This offers a new beginning for everyone involved, and you get to see many people together.”

Selena Southword, of Milford, said her desire to attend each year is drawn from the efforts put into an event honoring King.

“It’s a blessing for someone to coordinate this event every year to think about Martin Luther King,” Southword said, acknowledging the importance of sharing the event with children. “They then see that it is important, and hopefully they will continue to understand the importance” of continuing to spread King’s legacy to their children and grandchildren.

Eddie Brodie of West Newbury, Mass., enjoys “the notion of community, and the resilience of community, doing so much when you have people backing you.”

Instead of just staying home, he said his respect for King brought him to the breakfast “to commemorate him, to pay homage to a great man.”

Keith Bagley, of Londonderry, uses the event as a reminder.

“I believe in the mission and vision of progress, and to not lose sight of the vision,” Bagley said. “For me, this has been the best breakfast in a couple of years and seeing the governor and Rep. (Ann) Kuster – not just their representatives – is really invigorating to me.”

Among the first speakers on Monday, Jan. 20, Hassan noted that “Inclusiveness is part of our history, as New Hampshire has been at the forefront to save the union and end slavery.”

King “understood that by bringing people together and working toward the continued progress of our society, we can overcome our past imperfections,” Hassan said.

Special guest speaker Shujaa Graham spoke shortly thereafter, bringing to light nine-year fight for his life on death row in California. Graham even had to wait a couple of years after his death sentence was overturned before he was found not guilty of killing a prison guard and released from prison.

Graham spoke about his life struggles.

“The town I was born in, black people did not have a chance,” Graham said. “We must continue to make racism a nonexistent thing for all the people of this country.”

When Ealy spoke as the keynote, the longtime Outreach for Black Unity official emphasized all the good King had done for the country.

“How do you give thanks to a man that literally changed your life,” Ealy said. “Even though we never met, he introduced me to some ideas. He showed me his courage. He showed me his work ethic, and his love. … He taught us that if you all stand up, no one will have to sit down.”

Looking back on history, Ealy said, King “was armed with only his voice.

“He didn’t have guns like the other side. He didn’t have all the public officials with him, like the other side. Yet this young preacher stood up, when Rosa (Parks) got arrested, and the good people stood up with him.”

For a morning that elicited numerous “wows” from emcee Ernesto Pinder, the president of the Greater Manchester NAACP, he closed the three-hour breakfast by having all of the attendees hold hands in a circle to sing “We Shall Overcome.”

After the breakfast, Ealy said that the main message of his speech was to the youth.

“It is possible, and with their dreams, they can achieve,” Ealy said.

Andres Caamano can be reached at 594-6402.