General Joe Carter addresses students
Messages of inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a powerful speech by Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter highlighted a school-wide assembly program at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School yesterday.
The school's Young Brothers to Men planned and organized the assembly program in celebration of Dr. King's birthday and in honor of his memory.
The club invited Maj. Gen. Carter, the first African-American commander of the Massachusetts National Guard and former Oak Bluffs police chief, as the guest speaker to kick off what they plan to make an annual event.
Noting his long history of living in the Vineyard community and his daughter Emily's attendance at the high school, Maj. Gen. Carter said it was an honor and privilege to be a part of such an important assembly. With light glinting off the gold stars on his shoulders, he maintained a commanding presence that proved he could hold students, as well as soldiers, at attention. His audience listened in respectful silence throughout his moving, cadenced speech.
Recalling the days of Dr. King's activism, Maj. Gen. Carter said, "As a young man, I grew up in this time of racial tension and personally experienced discrimination." He went on to reveal that there were times in the past when he felt like the promise of America was not intended for him. "As a student in Boston schools, when I was asked to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, it didn't seem real to me."
However, Dr. King's message reminded him and everyone that the Declaration of Independence was a promise of all Americans for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. "I took solace in the words of Reverend Dr. King," Maj. Gen. Carter said. "His message transcended race - his message was one of treating all people with dignity and respect."
Although the nation continues to struggle with the issues of freedom, liberty, equality, and justice, Maj. Gen. Carter encouraged students to continue to believe in the timeless principles on which the United States was founded.
"The words of our Pledge of Allegiance, Declaration of Independence, and Constitution are still worthy of our respect," he said. "They represent a challenge to build one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all - even when you don't see them being lived by our national political leaders."
Maj. Gen. Carter concluded his remarks by urging all high school seniors who are 18 to register to vote. "It's important that each one of you becomes part of the democratic process - maybe together we can increase the quality of people who serve in office," he said.
Young Brothers to Men leaders Jaron Chaplin and Jwann Johnson, both seniors, co-hosted the assembly program. Mr. Chaplin suggested the idea for celebrating Dr. King's birthday last year to teacher Leo Frame, who works with the group, and the project took off.
At the assembly, Mr. Chaplin read a poem he wrote about Dr. King, followed by readings by other students including Grant Meacham, Matt Lucier, Marcus Hopkins, and Randall Jette. Mark Reppert played a music and slide presentation he put together paying tribute to Dr. King's life and racial harmony.
As guests and students entered the Performing Arts Center before the program started, they were treated to music by the school's jazz band, led by music teacher Mike Tinus. His colleagues, Janis Wightman and Dan Murphy, accompanied and led the mixed chorus in singing "We are the Children of Peace" and "We Shall Overcome."
After the assembly, Mr. Frame and the Young Brothers to Men held a reception for Maj. Gen. Carter in the Culinary Arts dining room. Guests in attendance included State Police Lt. Bob Moore, who is the Vineyard barracks commander, and Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake, along with superintendent of schools James Weiss and some members of the school committee.
At the reception, Maj. Gen. Carter presented each of the students who participated in the assembly program with a special commemorative Massachusetts National Guard medallion.
Mr. Frame said the Young Brothers to Men started in the 1992-1993 school year. The organization's membership now includes about 60 students, who meet monthly in school and twice a semester with 15 to 20 mentors from the Island community.
To commemorate Black History Month, on Feb. 21 the Young Brothers to Men plan to host another assembly featuring guest speaker James McLaurin, who served as a Tuskegee Airman with America's first black military pilots who flew in World War II.