Celebrating the life of MLK

The Vineyard chapter of the NAACP came back in person for its annual luncheon.

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More than 200 local members, new and old, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gathered at the Portuguese-American Club in Oak Bluffs on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for an afternoon of honor, education, and activism. 

An introduction by President Toni Kauffman set the tone of the event. After acknowledging the history of the land of Martha’s Vineyard, emphasizing the recognition of the Wampanoag tribe, Kauffman offered a prayer written by Dr. King.

“Dearest Jesus, come sit with us today,” she read. “Show us the lies that are still embedded in the soul of America’s consciousness. Unmask the untruths we have made our best friends. For they seek our destruction […] And Jesus, give us faith to believe: Redemption of people, relationships, communities, and whole nations is possible! Give us faith enough to renounce the lies and tear down the walls that separate us with our hands, with our feet, and with our votes!”

After an “amen” from those gathered following the prayer, a catered lunch featuring historically African American soul food was provided by Chef Canieka of the Loud Kitchen Experience.

The main event of the luncheon was the panel discussion, featuring NAACP committee members Jennelle Gadowski as moderator and speakers Dr. Lorna Andrade, Gretchen Tucker Underwood, and former Vineyard NAACP president Erik Blake. 

The overarching theme of their discussion was that despite the work the NAACP has done for the nation over the past 115 years, engagement and activism were still needed. 

Dr. Lorna Andrade gave an extensive history of the NAACP, its leadership over the years, and its many initiatives working toward racial justice; she also spoke about her medical research and efforts to spread awareness on health issues that concern the Black community. She referenced an NAACP meeting held last October about prostate cancer in men, which more than 300 men attended.

“Men are dying of prostate cancer, predominantly Black men,” she said. “We need to get them tested and treated. We have a hosted physician specialist that will work with patients, even if they don’t have insurance.”

She also spoke to her lineage of activists, and personal connection to Dr. King; her grandparents hosted him and his wife, Coretta Scott King, for lunch.

“[Activism] was always in my blood,” she said.

Tucker Underwood spoke about her own experiences concerning her identity as a Black woman, provoking the audience with the question, “When did you first notice when you were Black, or white, or whatever your color was?” she began. 

She reflected on an incident concerning her and her friend picketing in response to racial intolerance in downtown Boston when she was 13. 

“This man approaches me as I’m carrying my sign […] and he knocked me off the curb,” she said. “That was my woke moment, that racial injustice and racial hatred is not a sudden problem, it’s not for others to think about. It is right here, right now.”

Tucker Underwood cited a number of recent examples of issues connected to racism on the Island, including the use of racist caricatures in Vineyard Haven store displays, white supremacy posters displayed in Oak Bluffs, restriction of parties in Edgartown in response to the events held by a Black-owned whiskey company, and what she described as a “lynching” of a 9-year-old Black boy by two white boys in the Chilmark Community Center camp, when a strap was tied around the neck of a Black child, one of the few children of color in the program.

“Racism still exists and is alive and well, until we step out and do something about it,” she said.

Erik Blake spoke to his entrance and induction into NAACP leadership, joking about just how “welcoming” the membership and leadership were: “When Jackie Hunt shows up in the church with Carrie Tankard and Dr. Lorna, and you’re thinking about running, and they’re asking you about your plans, you do not say no.”

When talking about the racial issues that persist on Martha’s Vineyard, Blake suggests, “Meeting, doing the right thing, and changing policies.”

Organizers of Monday’s luncheon were pleased with the gathering. “We had a great turnout for the first time being back in person in three years,” said Grace Robinson, organizer of the event. “I really appreciate my committee for all their help, and all the volunteers.”

After three years of virtual meetings, the NAACP’s first hybrid meeting will convene this Saturday.