By Lynne Hendricks
---- — Racism is still alive and well. The form it takes just might be a bit different than the overt type that made headlines when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was preaching social and racial equality in the 1960s.
That was the sentiment of guests of the YWCA of Greater Newburyport’s 20th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast yesterday at Newburyport City Hall. They agreed that humanity has a ways to go before it reaches the ideal laid out by King in his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
Still, thanks to King’s powerful sermons and speeches, which have survived long after his life was cut short by a sniper’s bullet at the age of 39, event organizers said his words are still working to ensure his promise — that the arc of the moral universe is long and bends toward justice — is fulfilled.
“He was just incredible,” said Jamele Adams, associate dean of student life at Brandeis University who was the breakfast’s guest presenter. “He changed worlds in less than five minutes.”
Also known as Harlym 125, Adams came to Newburyport yesterday to talk about the ideals King gave his life for and to deliver his own message on racism and gender and social equality in a powerful poetry slam format that he’s become known for.
A highly regarded public speaker in his own right, Adams spoke to a receptive crowd of about 200 on how standing up and doing the right thing can change the world.
An avid student of King’s ideology, Adams shared some favorite quotes from the civil rights leader, including that “it’s better to live with a scarred body than a scarred soul” and that “in the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
“He’s saying do the right thing,” said Adams, explaining that any physical harm one suffers is worth it at the end of the day.
As it does every year, the YWCA event is organized in part by high school students who tackle issues of empowerment and racial equality as board members of the organization.
This year, those teens conducted surveys of the Newburyport High School student body to point out how stereotypes can be false and how first impressions of someone, based on color, age or gender, are most often wrong.
The teens called on fellow students to craft their own poems about racism, which were displayed on the walls of City Hall Auditorium for guests to read throughout the breakfast.
Adams singled out one teen poet — Jordan Stamulis — for his verse titled “A Bitter Reality,” which decried the public denial of modern-day racism.
‘A Bitter Reality’
Racism you are here
Racism you are alive
A public thought
In a public mind
A mistake in our world
It belongs in another
Filled with hate and wrong
White stealing innocence
Some may say it doesn’t exist
But they are the ones blinded
With the sad tainted eyes
Obstructing their view
Of the ongoing war
Between God’s children
— Jordan Stamulis