The 51st Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast looked a lot different this year, as the event was fully virtual and people could not gather together to share a meal as is traditional.
The event, which was made possible by the MLK Memorial Breakfast Committee and sponsored by Northeastern University, as well as co-hosted by St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church and Union United Methodist Church in Roxbury, was streamed live on Facebook on January 18, and was described by Northeastern as “an exploration of the unfinished business of Dr. King’s vision for socioeconomic justice, political action, and civic engagement.”
The program featured speakers from both churches, as well as Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun, a tribute to the late honorable John Lewis by Dr. Cleveland Sellers, a former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a conversation with City Council President and soon to be first woman and Black mayor of the City of Boston and District Attorney Rachael Rollins, and remarks from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, and Tanisha Sullivan, President of the Boston Branch of the NAACP, among others. The program was hosted by Boston Globe senior opinion writer Kimberly Atkins.
The program was separated into pillars, with the first being socio-economic justice, the second being political action, and the third being civic engagement and activism.
The conversation with Rachael Rollins and Kim Janey was part of the second pilar, and was moderated by Segun Idowu, Executive Director of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts.
“What we’re doing is we’re being very vocal about the policies I ran on as a candidate,” Rollins said. “I am not anti-police,” she said. “I am anti police brutality.”
She said that the “aggressive, excessive acts of the police that result in death,” such as in the cases of Ahmaud Abery, George Floyd. And Breonna Taylor are what she will not stand for.
“I have made clear I’m not going to be prosecuting people who are out there exercising their first amendment right,” she said.
“I agree wholeheartedly with our DA,” Janey said. “I support her policies” and “focusing on serious crime and not these misdemeanors.” Janey spoke of the recently signed legislation in the City for the creation of an Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, or OPAT, which “sets up a civilian review board” in the city, she said, adding that the criminal justice bill at the state level has also recently been signed by Governor Baker.
Rollins said she wants the police to solve “violent, serious crimes” like rape and murder, and doesn’t want them out in communities “for trespasses” and “run of the mill motor vehicle violations. That is a waste of our taxpayer dollars.”
Janey also said that the Council will have to “revisit” Mayor Walsh’s vetoing of the ordinance limiting the use of rubber bullets and tear gas in the city. She said there has to be a “focus on making sure that everyone feels safe. Right now, we know that’s not the case.”
Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun said that “Black Lives Matter was a wake up call for society at large that ignored systemic racism. But it was also a wake up call for our community. It caught us as a university by surprise, flatfooted. And since then, we mobilized ourselves in order to make sure that moving forward, we would build a community that is more diverse; intolerant of any racism or discrimination, and we are working at it all together.”
During the first pillar, Senator Elizabeth Warren said that “we need to ask ourselves what we are doing reactively every day to dismantle systemic racism in our communities and…circles of influence.” She said it’s “not enough to stand as an ally; we must go further and be anti-racist.”
In the third pillar, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said that “now more than ever, we need to forge our bonds of community.” She spoke of Dr. King being a student in Boston and beginning his ministry in Roxbury.
“In his heart, Dr. King was a radical,” she said, and “fought to create a more just society.” She said that when she thinks of Martin Luther King, she thinks of Ferguson, Minneapolis, and Boston, along with other “communities across our country” as a “continuation of the civil rights movement.”
She continued, “Dr. King was a drum major for justice. Instead of being deterred by those who criticize us, I welcome their criticisms…in this moment, justice is what we seek; it’s what we demand.”
Senator Ed Markey said that when he thinks about the the “insurrection” on the US Capitol happened at the beginning of the month, “I cannot help but think about Dr. King and about the 260,000 people who joined him…for his march on Washington.”
He said that “we must ask ourselves what would Dr. King have said about what ahppened at the US Capitol? What happened at the US Capitol was not a protest,” but instead a “riot to uphold white supremacy,” he said, that was “upheld by the president of the United States, Donald Trump.”
Markey said that “racism and white supremacy has persisted since the founding of our nation,” and is “built int the fabric of our country; built into the Constitution of our country,” and said that it is “why Black voters are still disenfranchised,” and why “mass incarceration and lynchings still exist.”
He said that “the forces of fear and hate have power. Hat3e cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
Many speakers incorporated tributes to John Lewis in their remarks, including Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
“John Lewis started as a scrappy student activist,” she said, and “as a Congressman, Lewis never lost sight of his beginning” and “never rested on his laurels,” attending sit-ins and protests.
“He knew better than the rest of us that the civil rights movement did not end. He gave us his life; gave us our marching orders,” she said. “Today, we’re honoring extraordinary students and community leaders.”
She said that “we must safeguard and expand civil rights. We must end white supremacy,” as well as acknowledge the public health crisis that existed within communities of color prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will apply an equity lens to all that we do,” she said, as well as funding more recovery programs for opioid users, “continue to fight unlawful evictions,” and “partner with community leaders to address food insecurity and prevent other families from going hungry,” as well as continue to implement police reform.
“The time for talking has ended; the time for practice and doing is now,” said Tanisha Sullivan. “I do believe that here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we do have the ability to truly be a commonwealth for our collective prosperity.”