Monday, January 18, 2010

NAACP breakfast honors King

I wrote this for Tuesday's edition of The Bristol Press (

BRISTOL – About 260 people turned out early Monday to pay tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The greater Bristol branch of the NAACP hosted the breakfast with the theme “A Community Working Together” at Bristol Eastern High School.
Lexie Mangum, president of the local branch, recognized a host of businesses and organizations and made sure community leaders, including the mayor, fire chief, police chief and a school board member all had a chance to speak.
“This is our town. We pay taxes here. We live here,” said Mangum, who said he wanted the breakfast to be a chance for residents to get to know some of the city officials. “Let us get involved in any way we can to make our town better.”
The morning wasn’t without music. Madrigal singers from Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central High School performed, and the Bristol NAACP Choir also favored the crowd in its first performance anywhere.
“I would say your debut was a resounding success,” said Doris Arrington, dean of students at Capital Community College, who was the keynote speaker.
With his ideals of democracy, freedom and equality for all, Arrington said, King had a “global vision in which all people would share in the wealth of the earth.”
But African Americans and Latinos struggle with double the unemployment numbers of whites, said Arrington, less health insurance, more new cases of AIDS as well as underfunded schools that turn out fewer students who are college bound.
About 25 percent of Hartford high school students, she said, attend higher education, compared to 80 percent of their suburban counterparts.
King’s vision can only be achieved, Arrington said, by a community that still has faith in its fellow human beings.
“There is still much work to be done, as all Americans have not achieved equality,” said Arrington exhorting her listeners to get involved in their community. “The time is now. We are the ones that we have been waiting for. It is up to us. What we do today or what we don’t do today will be our legacy.”
Patricia Bentley, a breakfast organizer, welcomed the crowd and said she was happy to see so many community officials at the event.
“This is actually a great turnout,” said Bentley.
Mayor Art Ward said it was the largest turnout he’d ever seen in Bristol on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and credited Mangum and others for “bringing the NAACP back into a viable organization within the community.”
Ward said he hopes that with the growth of the local NAACP, dialog between the group and the city will improve.
Ward invited those in the audience to get involved in civic work.
“We have many, many boards and commissions that need you, and we want you to be part of our community,” Ward said.
Emcee Ray Ortiz talked about competing and winning as the 2009 Connecticut Youth of the Year for the Bristol Boys and Girls Club.
“It was hard,” said Ortiz. But he said when he went on to represent the state in the national contest, he experienced a lot of “firsts” in his life, including riding on a train, visiting Times Square and eating at the Olive Garden.
Mangum said the local NAACP branch has more than 100 adult members and almost 40 youth and encouraged non-members to join.
“The NAACP is not and never has been a black organization,” said Mangum. “If you are a resident of Bristol or surrounding town, you can join the NAACP.”
The group’s next meeting, Mangum said, will be Saturday at the Bristol Public Library. The executive board meets at noon and the general membership at 12:30 p.m., he said. Only members are allowed at the meeting, Mangum said, but anyone who wants to join can arrive a few minutes before noon to register.
Dues are $10 for members 16 and under, $15 for members 17-21 and $30 for adults age 21 or older.

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