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At Martin Luther King Jr. Day Event, Speakers Seek Inspiration From King's Words, Urge Action

President Donald Trump’s disparaging comment about Haiti, El Salvador and some African countries continued to resonate Monday at the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship breakfast at the Connecticut Convention Center.

The event, one of several to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Connecticut, is a major fundraiser for the Delta Sigma Theta Hartford Alumnae Chapter’s scholarship fund. More than 1,000 people filled the convention center’s ballroom for breakfast.

Much has happened in the 50 years since the pivotal year of 1968 — the year King was assassinated, the year the first black woman was elected to Congress and the year the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which is also known as the Fair Housing Act, passed — the Rev. Sara A. Sneed of Hartford’s Shiloh Baptist Church told the gathering.

“What happened in 1968 can provide a spark of hope for us today,” she said. King’s life should not be a moment people stare at, but an impetus for action, she said. “There is no more urgent time than now,” Sneed said.

Tekisha Dwan Evertte of West Hartford, the Hartford chapter’s president, said Delta Sigma Theta has a long history of being involved. “We understand the importance of looking at our political and policy climate,” she said, nothing sorority members marched for women’s suffrage. “We are not going back in this country,” she said. “We are only going forward.”

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who is exploring a run for governor, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal offered similar sentiments, but also took aim at Trump.

“Today, 50 years after Martin Luther King said he’d been to the mountaintop and seen the promise land, we have a president who calls Mexicans rapists, who says that Puerto Ricans are ungrateful, who says we don’t need any immigrants from Haiti or from Africa, and who says there are some very fine people among the hooded and torch-carrying racists in Charlottesville, and a person and majority in Congress who will let millions of children lose their health care, but give a tax cut to the very rich,” Bronin said. “So this is not the promised land. And yet, as Dr. King said, we cannot yield to a politics of despair.”

Bronin urged people live King’s legacy everyday by “working together … to bend the arc of the moral universe and American history back toward justice.”

The president’s comments can be discouraging to many, Blumenthal said. “When you’re tempted to go low,” Blumenthal said, remember King’s words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Ramona Blake, global diversity and inclusion director for Farmington-based United Technologies, said King’s “clarion call” to fight racism, bigotry, inequity is timeless. She asked those at the breakfast what they were prepared to do to answer that call.

“In this age of hashtags around ‘staying woke’ and ‘me too,’ will our responses be limited to ‘likes’ or replies on social media? No matter where it is, let us take up Dr. King’s clarion call for justice for it is relevant today perhaps even more so than it ever was.”

At one point in her talk, Blake offered a happy Martin Luther King greeting from UTC, which was the signature sponsor for the event. And then she said happy Martin Luther King Day three more times — in Spanish for people from El Salvadore, in Swahili for people from Africa and in Haitian Creole for the people of Haiti.

The Hartford Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta awards about $30,000 in scholarships each year to up to 16 Hartford area students who go onto college. The scholarships are renewable and the sorority has awarded $340,000 to 140 women over the years.

Several recipients attended Monday’s breakfast, including Desarae Cotton of Bloomfield, who is a freshman at Hofstra University. She said the scholarship helps cover her room and board expenses. Without it, she said she would not have been able to go to Hofstra.

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