Service and reflection on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martha's Vineyard NAACP reflects on changing leadership and asks, How can we serve?


On Monday, the Martha’s Vineyard NAACP (MV NAACP) celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Portuguese-American Club with a discussion and a dinner prepared by President Erik Blake and board member Leon Braithwaite. The M.V. NAACP swore in new officers and board members, reflected on their mission, and discussed how they can best serve their members and the Martha’s Vineyard community. State representative Dylan Fernandes and Sheriff Robert Ogden were in attendance.

Executive board member Gretchin Tucker Underwood addressed the crowd with prepared remarks about the NAACP’s history in fighting for equality for communities of color, her thoughts on the election, and the significance of honoring Dr. King’s legacy.

Marie Allen, former M.V. NAACP president, shared memories of seeing Dr. King and Coretta King on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard — at the beach, on Circuit Avenue, and shopping in Reliable Market. “We have to remember what Dr. King meant to this country. He devoted his life to civil rights and advocacy for everyone,” she said. “I think he would be disappointed in the way young people have been killed and the amount of bigotry we see today.”

For Ms. Allen, this week has stirred up many emotions. She is feeling apprehensive and disappointed about the election of Donald Trump, but is hoping for the best. “We don’t know how he’s going to be until he’s in office,” she said. “But I didn’t feel that the comments he made fit with the office. I disliked the vitriol and hateful remarks he made about women.”

“On Nov. 8, we were optimistic and hopeful,” said Ms. Underwood. “We hoped to be vindicated. Then came Nov. 9. Some of us cried, some were angry, and some wanted to shrink into their turtle shells.”

Island activist Vera Shorter praised outgoing President Obama as a “class act.” “He speaks well, not hatefully,” she said. “He has been a role model for young people. I would like my grandson to emulate him.”

Ms. Underwood honored outgoing President Obama and concluded her speech with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ms. Underwood also contrasted the M.V. NAACP’s celebration of Dr. King’s birthday with the treatment it received this year in Biloxi, Miss. The city erroneously stated it would be closing municipal offices in recognition of “Great Americans Day” — a city holiday that celebrates the combined birthdays of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and confederate commander Robert E. Lee.

“We say that would never happen here, but the impossible happened on Nov. 8,” Ms. Underwood said. “Elections are lost in one day, but democracy goes on forever. We must be diligent and raise our voices. As Dr. King said, ‘Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve.’”

“I like to follow Dr. King’s words,” said M.V. NAACP President Erik Blake. “I choose love because hate is too big of a burden to bear. It takes too much time and energy.”

Ms. Underwood called on M.V. NAACP members to imagine what they want their community to look like, and discuss how the NAACP can engage with the community of Martha’s Vineyard.

“We carefully select diverse people to serve on our staff, but then have no stable place for them to live once they get here,” Ms. Underwood said. “We need to talk about what needs fixing here in this paradise.”

Members said that drugs, affordable housing, and potential changes with the incoming presidential administration are among their greatest concerns. Suggestions were made to start a mentoring program with the youth chapter, and to host public forums to highlight the importance of the fight for civil rights. State Representative Dylan Fernandes spoke about rectifying the effects of implicit bias in our daily lives.

Matters of business also accompanied this moment of reflection. The new officers and members of the M.V. NAACP executive board were sworn in. The M.V. NAACP officers are president Erik Blake, 1st vice president Carrie Tankard, 2nd vice president Marie Doubleday, treasurer Laurie Perry, and secretary Colleen Morris. The executive board members are Dr. Lorna Andrade, Marie Araujo, Russell Ashton, James Brannon, Leon Brathwaite, Kenneth Gross, Jacqueline Hunt, Dolores Little, Cecillia Marie Thompson, and Gretchen Tucker Underwood.

President Blake also presented an Outstanding Achievement Award to ten-year-old Nikeya Tankard. Tankard was recognized for selling over $1,000 worth of handmade bracelets and donating her earnings to the Red Stocking Fund.