As Martha’s Vineyard National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (MV NAACP) members poured into the Portuguese-American Club for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day luncheon, some greeting old friends and others embracing new acquaintances, the sense of community and togetherness was palpable.
The luncheon is a yearly event where members renew their membership and executive members are sworn in. President of the MV NAACP Erik Blake was sworn in for his fourth term, and a number of new members were inducted.
Approximately 150 people attended the event, and not a seat was left empty.
Blake gave a speech about the Constitution of the United States and how it is every person’s responsibility to uphold its values.
He looked out at the audience and asked, “Do you like my tie?”
“It says ‘We the People,’ and I think Dr. King believed in this more than some of the people running our country right now,” he said. “Dr. King was a true American; he wanted us to live up to what is written on this tie.”
Blake said everyone has the ability to be kind and benevolent, even if it just means treating someone the way you would wish to be treated. He recalled a man being denied a bus ride because of the color of his skin. “This happened here on Martha’s Vineyard, and it’s a huge problem,” he said. “That’s why we need to work hard, even if it just means doing a little something each day.”
For Blake, channeling his ‘inner hero’ means thinking of the possible positive impact you can have on someone’s life.
The musical talent at the P.A. Club was incredibly diverse, and all who performed offered unique insights into the civil rights movement and what it represents.
Molly Conole sang “Come Sunday” by Duke Ellington, accompanied by Peter Boak on piano.
Toni Kaufman read quotes from some of King’s speeches, and Isabella Blake and Piper Blau played “Amazing Grace,” sung by Maddie Harris-Bengtson.
Sabrina Luening, whose grandfather founded the MV NAACP, sang “A Change Is Gonna Come,” accompanied by T. George Davis on guitar.
Kate Taylor gave an impressive performance of a song written by Walter Robinson, called “Harriet Tubman.”
Throughout the number of performances, audience members clapped, sang, and hummed along, with the occasional “amen” or “that’s right!” added from the audience.
Luncheon committee organizer Gretchen Tucker-Underwood told The Times the event is an embodiment of King’s vision of a unified America. “Look at all these people, it is such a homogenous group,” she said. “We have people of every race, age, and background here today breaking bread, sharing stories, and enjoying each other’s company.”
Underwood said King envisioned a unified world where people of any race or culture can thrive together. “And this is a perfect representation of that unity, where everyone is in support of something that is essential in the community.”
Change is collaborative, and for Underwood, collaboration is the only way to succeed.
Dolores Littles told the Times the more Islanders know about each other, the easier it will be to form an interconnected community.
“What people don’t realize is, we are more similar than we are different,” she said. “We want to find those similarities and cherish them.”
Another member, Richard Shepard, has been in the NAACP since he was 16 years old. He said the event is a perfect place for people of all “shapes, sizes, and colors” to come together for a great cause.
Assistant principal at MVRHS Dhakir Warren told The Times being “solution-oriented” is important when there are so many problems in society: “It’s easy to get caught up with all that’s going on today, but everyone should be engaged in one way or another.”
Warren said the unique dynamic on Martha’s Vineyard allows an opportunity to be a model for the rest of the world. “Change really does start with you, and everyone needs to take that extra initiative,” he said.
State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, told The Times how moving it was to see “such an incredible turnout.”
“This really is a call to service for many people,” he said. “Martha’s Vineyard is a community that is incredibly giving, philanthropic, and compassionate, and everyone wants to support the cause.”
Fernandes said the fact that so many people showed up indicates how much more there is to be done to uphold King’s values: “Everyone wants to support the cause, and just because we have the support, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot of work to be done.”