By SUSAN DOUCET
Boston was a city of significance for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., local politicians, activists and leaders reminded attendees at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Breakfast on Monday.
King studied here, preached here, led peaceful protests on Boston Common, and met with local leaders and officials, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said during the breakfast. This is where King met his wife, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said.
“Dr. King had a special relationship with our city, Boston,” Chang-Diaz said during the 46th annual MLK Breakfast at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on Monday morning. “And that is why I believe it would pain him to look down on us from Heaven and see what the Brookings (Institution) recently showed us. We recently found out that Boston is the most unequal city in the United States when it comes to income disparity.”
Chang-Diaz, who called her message challenging rather than celebratory, cited information on income inequality published this month by the nonprofit research and policy organization.
The breakfast, the country’s oldest commemoration of King, did celebrate King and his progress and legacy, but also served as a call for further progress and change, locally and nationally. “With the senseless violence over the past year – in Charleston and San Bernardino, Paris and Istanbul, from Baltimore to Boston – we must still strive for peace and justice,” the event’s planning committee wrote in its welcome message.
“As we honor Dr. King today, we are reminded that we still have much work to do,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who Master of Ceremonies Carmen Fields called her “homegirl.” “For me, that’s it: safety, voting, opportunity. We know what we need to do to continue the fight for full equality. Like the civil rights movement of 50 years ago, it comes to us once again to affirm that black lives matter, black citizens matter and black families matter.”
The breakfast, which is co-hosted by St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church and Union United Methodist Church, featured remarks from numerous politicians, including Chang-Diaz, Walsh, Warren, Attorney General Maura Healey, Sen. Edward Markey and Gov. Charlie Baker, as well as religious leaders, educators, and Dr. Ruth Simmons, keynote speaker and former president of Brown University.
Markey, the state’s junior senator in Congress, received a standing ovation from the audience of about 1,000 people for his speech that highlighted a message of justice.
“We have more work to do,” he reiterated. “What matters in America in 2016 are the same things that mattered when Dr. King was alive: A quality education for all children, a good job and fair wage, affordable health care for everyone, respecting human rights and building safe, strong communities. We must make these things, once again, available.”
The first African American president of an Ivy League university, Simmons spoke about the changes she has seen in her lifetime, of King, who she called the “most inspirational figure of my childhood,” and of important principles.
“One of the most positive and enabling actions we can take in the midst of the noise and confusion that prevails today is to honor and emulate this man’s life and work, to teach the same principles that guided him and to try to walk in his footsteps,” she said. “If this were the singular inclusive act of your year, it would be time well spent as long as you breath deeply the spirit of this man and take that same spirit into your quotidian thoughts and actions.”