NAACP celebrates Dr. M.L.K. Jr. day

Ralph Stewart

This year is the 101st anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the members of the Martha’s Vineyard chapter will be honoring the youth of the Island at their annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Membership and Award Brunch. It is a celebration of moving forward and recognizing the importance of young people in maintaining the mission of the NAACP.

The annual event, “From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Barack Obama,” is to be held next Monday, Jan. 18, at Deon’s in Oak Bluffs.

“We really thought we should start acknowledging the youth of our community and let people know how important they are,” said member Mary Louise Koch. “We wanted to make people realize how much our youth do because they are not always as honored.”

Lorna Andretti, co-chair of the event, said, “Leading up to this event we decided to refocus on our youth. Years ago we had a big youth contingency. Now we’re reorganizing to get young people involved for the new millennium.”

Elaine Cawley-Weintraub, a NAACP member, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School teacher and founder of the African American Heritage Trail project, selected the speakers from among the school’s student body. She chose high school junior Randall Jette and senior Troy Small, two young men who are involved with community programs.

The theme of Mr. Jette’s speech will be “What Martin Luther King Means to Me.” Ms. Weintraub said that Mr. Jette has done a good deal of work with the Heritage Trail, by fundraising and speaking at events. She said, “His [King’s] legacy is very important to him.”

Mr. Small is on the student board member of the Heritage Trail. His speech will be about his life growing up as an African-American, comparing it to the youth experiences of Sen. Edward Brooke, a former seasonal Oak Bluffs resident and the first African-American to be elected by popular vote to the United States Senate. Mr. Small will discuss the barriers that Senator Brooke challenged and changed, comparing his experiences with the opportunities now open to black youth.

The event is also the occasion when the NAACP presents its Outstanding Service Awards to members in the community who have worked towards social justice and civil rights. This year’s Service Award winners have demonstrated particular leadership qualities in working with young adults.

Steve Bernier, owner of Cronig’s Market, will be acknowledged for his many generous contributions to the NAACP, as well as for his role in engaging the physically and mentally challenged on the Island.

The Reverend Roger H. Spinney will be recognized for his ministry and counseling with youth.

Tobias Vanderhoop will be honored for his work with the youth of the Wampanoag tribe of Martha’s Vineyard.

Of the recipients, Ms. Andretti said, “They make donations, are active in volunteering and continue to utilize their knowledge towards mentoring.”

Event co-chair Grace Robinson emphasizes the NAACP’s work towards recognizing and representing all ethnic and minority groups, not just African Americans. She hopes that the brunch this year will serve as an outreach to young people in the community who may not be aware of all that the NAACP represents. She said that the group has lost a number of its young members in recent years.

In keeping with the youth theme, the event will also feature music performed by members of the high school’s Minnesingers. Jenna Lambert, Toby Riseborough, Amanda Rose, and Rykerr Maynard will sing the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” along with another song of the students’ choosing.

Ms. Weintraub says, “They want to be careful to choose a song with a message of hope – something that resonates the idea of dreams and hope and aspiration.”

Annual M.V. NAACP Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Membership/Award Brunch 10 am-1:30 pm, Deon’s Restaurant, Oak Bluffs. $55 includes 1-year membership and magazine subscription. 508-944-4484.

Gwyn McAllister is a regular contributor to The Times.