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Juneteenth Committee hosts 40th annual MLK luncheon

Inspired to serve

OBSERVER Photos Luncheon attendees sing “We Shall Overcome” at the beginning of Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon at the Clarion.

“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in one of his final speeches. “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Service was the theme of this year’s annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Luncheon held at the Clarion Hotel Marina & Conference Center on Monday, though one could easily argue that setting aside differences — regardless of race or political affiliation — was an equally powerful message throughout the afternoon.

Loretta Slaton Torain, head of Dunkirk’s Juneteenth Committee, began the luncheon by announcing that 2020 marks the 40th year of the city’s celebration of Juneteenth and the 40th year of the MLK luncheon. She recognized the many local churches and local organizations that serve the Dunkirk community including United Way, the Salvation Army, Revitalize Dunkirk, Dunkirk-Fredonia Meals on Wheels, and Adult Daycare Center and the Boys and Girls Club.

Following the opening prayer the traditional opening song, “We Shall Overcome,” Rosas took to the podium to proclaim Monday Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the city of Dunkirk and acknowledge attitudes and actions among city council members that he feels are at odds with King’s message.

Rosas said, “Our strength should be our diversity. Unfortunately, I can’t stand before you and tell you that’s what I feel has happened. Currently in our city, we have a new council; we have a power struggle going on.”

Frank Torain speaks about service at the Monday lunch.

Rosas recognized and thanked the lone councilman in the room, Don Williams, Jr. He then urged those in attendance — and their elected representatives — to remember that the election has ended, and “it’s time to get to work.”

While Rosas appeared to have a prepared speech and proclamation to read, he set those aside “to deliver a speech from my heart…My message to our community and our council members is very simple… It’s OK to have disagreements. We will have disagreements along the way but as long as all of us are working toward the betterment of our community, good things will continue to happen, and that is my pledge.”

Rosas was met with applause and a standing ovation by most in the room. Fredonia Mayor Doug Essek, too, proclaimed Monday MLK, Jr. Day in the village and expressed support for Rosas’ sentiments. “We need to see each other as one,” said Essek. “We’re not that different. We’re all the same.”

While Chautauqua County Executive Paul Wendel and State Sen. George Borrello were unable to attend the luncheon, Torain called on Assemblyman Andy Goodell and SUNY Fredonia Interim President Dennis Hefner to speak. “Dr. King challenged all of us to make a personal commitment to make our communities better by reaching out to one another, to extending a hand of brotherhood and treating each other as we are God’s children,” said Goodell. “Let’s go forth today, rededicated to the fundamental commitments that King called upon all of us.”

Hefner congratulated the Juneteenth Committee on 40 years of hosting the MLK luncheon and expressed his joy at being part of it for 17 years. “One of the things I talk about on campus on a regular basis is we should respect everyone,” said Hefner. “Regardless of any differences we have, we should feel altogether on this earth, and we should be very, very respectful.”

State University of New York at Fredonia President Dennis Hefner offers congratulations to the Juneteenth Committee on its 40th Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon.

Bianca Moore and Ivory Brooks presented the Janice D. Slaton, Esq. scholarships to two students: Alyshah Flores and Brisa Garcia, graduates of Dunkirk High School. Flores is a first year student at JCC where she is majoring in healthcare services. Garcia is a first year student at Buffalo State College, where she is majoring in fashion with a concentration in fashion merchandising.

Torain reminded all that “we must never forget that Dr. King was first a Baptist preacher, and his religious beliefs mean service was important to him.” In that spirit, she called on representatives from area churches to speak on the luncheon’s theme.

Frank G. Torain, pastor of Open Door No. 3 Church of God in Christ shared a story from the Bible: Christ’s demonstration of service in washing his disciples’ feet after the Last Supper. “We have been conditioned to believe that authoritative positions demand service of subordinates,” he explained. “The truth of the matter is, leaders can’t lead without followers, and followers can’t follow without leaders…No matter where we find ourselves, we’re subjected to some service of some kind.”

Ryan G. Waller, deacon at Friendship Baptist Church, shared his own experiences with service, from delivering the Evening OBSERVER to serving in the armed forces. Minnie DeBose, pastor of Apostolic House of Prayer No. 2 recalled her youth in Tuskegee, where her parents were cotton share croppers. “I knew that something wasn’t right because it was all separated,” DeBose recalled. “To see that and to see now that we have come a mighty long way together, a lot of things have changed, but we need to continue…we need each other.”

Lastly, Torain invited one final guest to the podium, Tracy Mitrano, who is running for the 23rd congressional district this fall. “It is an honor to be here today from all of you, and I send blessings from the 23rd district to you all on this glorious day,” she said.

The luncheon ended with the Retirement of Colors by Dunkirk High School’s J.R.O.T.C. and the closing benediction.

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