Martin Luther King Jr.Martin Luther King Jr.

MLK Day birthday celebration Jan. 15, 2024The auditorium stage on a frigid Monday night. / Jessie Castellano photo

UPDATED Jan. 24: The doors of Arlington Town Hall opened at 6 p.m. Monday, inviting all to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work in a ceremony filled with the power of community, acknowledgement of  history and the music of local teens.

“The Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Observance Committee of Arlington has been dedicated to upholding the values and the legacy of the civil rights leader through this yearly celebration right here in town and by supporting local progressive initiatives since 1989,” said Crystal Haynes Copithorne, mistress of ceremonies of the event and chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Observance Committee.

She welcomed nearly 200 guests as she spoke about the history of the event, the 36th annual celebration. In between speakers, the Ottoson Middle School eighth-grade chorus and the Arlington High School Honors String Musicians performed on stage for the audience.

ACMi video of Jan. 15 MLK observance:
MLK Day in Arlington: a yearly event

The observance, which has become an annual tradition each January, was spearheaded by the Arlington Interfaith Association, explained Haynes Copithorne, highlighting the spirituality behind it. She then introduced Rabbi Cari Bricklin-Small of Temple Shir Tikvah in Winchester to present the invocation; with King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Bricklin-Small said, people can recognize a dream as a first step. 

After the empowering opening remarks, Pearl P. Morrison, a longtime member of the committee, spoke about her experiences and the work of the committee -- and urged audience members to donate to it  in person or via GoFundMe, to support youth scholarships.

“Our funds absolutely go back to the work we do in the community,” said Haynes Copithorne, who shared the stories of Aiyanna Canty and Hanysabel Daniel, two Arlington High School students who won the 2023 African-American Society of Arlington Scholarship Award, which is sponsored by the annual birthday celebration. The scholarships helped these students purchase necessities for the school year.

The late Paul Parravano honored

The committee also honored a special community member whom they believed embodied King’s legacy. The outstanding achievement honor was awarded to the late Paul Parravano, a former co-director of the Office of Government and Community Relations at MIT and a longtime advocate for all those with disabilities both there and in Arlington. The award was accepted by his wife and children. 

Jillian Harvey, Arlington’s diversity, equity and Inclusion division director and vice chair of the committee, introduced the keynote speaker, the Rev. Rahsaan Hall, who has received much recognition for his work.

Hall spoke about what celebrating King’s birthday meant to him.

“I’ve gotta say that celebrations honoring the life of Dr. King can be challenging to deal with,” said Hall. “As a civil rights advocate, a minister of the gospel and as a black man, I must admit that it can be challenging to celebrate a portion of a man who represented a whole movement of oppressed people fighting for freedom and justice.”

Hall, a minister, attorney and president/CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, has made a lifelong commitment to civil rights and continues to champion efforts toward helping communities overcome racial and social barriers.

He noted that he had just recently traveled to Montgomery, Ala., the site of many key events of the beginning of the American civil rights movement -- and spoke about disparities in today’s society.

“When we live in a world where democracy is under attack, books are being banned and the teaching of the history of what Dr. King and so many others were struggling to change is considered indoctrination, we are in need of leaders,” he said.

'Bread for the journey'

Hall concluded his address by discussing what he calls “bread for the journey,” a journey to a racially just nation. “We must journey to a land that embraces the entirety of our experiences and tells the truth about who we have been,” he said. “You and I can work together in telling the truth. And in order to do that, we must have bread for the journey.” 

Following Hall’s speech, the crowd awarded him a standing ovation. The student musicians returned to the stage to lead an interactive Anthem of Freedom, to which the entire room was invited to sing along. 

After the performance, the Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron of Park Avenue Congregational Church took the stage to deliver the benediction, bringing the hour-and-a-half program to a close.

Meanwhile, a different event occurred 

As people inside Town Hall listened to the MLK Day speakers, dozens of others gathered outside in front of the building between approximately 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. for a demonstration demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict. A female participant interviewed in the video repeatedly accused Israel of genocide, a viewpoint not shared by major Western powers

 Protest outside Town Hall on Jan. 15:

 Jan. 1, 2023: 35th MLK observance held at Town Hall, featuring Boston's NAACP president

This story and photograph by YourArlington freelancer Jessie Castellano, a graduate student at Northeastern University, was published Jan. 16, 2024. It was updated Jan. 24, to add two ACMi video windows.