Martin Luther King, Jr: a prophet of peace and social justice

By John Monfredo, retired WPS principal and teacher and former Worcester School Committee member

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
– MLK, Jr.

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive and well in Worcester this month. On January 14 Worcester State University held its 29th annual Youth Breakfast Celebration to an audience of community members, parents and students. Then, on MLK Jr. Day, Monday January 16th, Quinsigamond Community College held the 38nd annual event to a crowd of over 600 and honored the work of Dr. King as well as honoring community members.

Retired Friendly House Executive Director Gordon Hargrove was honored for his over 50 years of outstanding work at the Friendly House. For decades he assisted the neediest children and families in the Worcester area. He received the Eleanor T. Hawley Community Service award. Also, receiving the Eleanor T. Hawley award was Dr. George S. Smith for his service to the community in starting up this special day in honoring Dr. King and for all his work within the community. The Worcester Police Department Service award went to Captain Kenneth Davanport and to Police Officer David Rutherford for their outstanding service to the community.

Gordon P. Hargrove (1)
Worcester hero, social service agency icon and all around terrific person Gordon Hargrove was honored at the MLK event for decades of service to the poor in Worcester as executive director of the Friendly House!

The overall theme at the events was remembering the “Dream” of Dr. King and moving forward in an attempt to assist others, to espouse the importance of non-violence in our community and to assist the less fortunate in our society. The guest speaker at the event was Rachael S. Rollins, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. Her speech was outstanding, for she addressed the importance of carrying on Dr. King’s legacy.

Other speakers included Congressman Jim McGovern who spoke about racism. He said, “We need to disrupt racism in our individual choices, in our economic choices and especially, in our political choices.” Also, President Luis Pedraja of Quinsigamond Community College, on that same issue, stated, “Unfortunately, the pandemic revealed that we saw, more clearly than ever, that racism and systemic oppression still have a strong hold on our society…We still see that violence plagues us, and that hatred still thrives in our midst.”

Then Worcester City Manager Eric Batista, the city’s first Latino manager and a former student of mine at Belmont Community School, stated that one of his top priorities is to create a more inclusive and representative workforce… a future where diverse young adults see themselves better represented in positions of leadership within the community. He also spoke about everyone willing to work together for a better Worcester.

It was 29 years ago Gordon Hargrove and his sister Dorothy Hargrove, along with a few other community members, organized the MLK youth breakfast for students and it has continued with many other individuals carrying the torch. Students across Worcester County have been encouraged to participate in a poetry contest honoring Dr. King, Jr. In addition, student performances and special awards were also given out.

Student Art initiative awards were given out to Richard Bonus, a junior at WSU and to Maria Orozco Orjuela a freshman at WSU. Student dance performances were done by Friendly House Teen Program, The Learning First Step Team and by Jo Ann Warren Studio. Nasya Osei, of South High School sang the National Anthem and the Southeast Asian Coalition performed a song and dance routine. Vanessa Ford, an outstanding adult soloist, sang several songs throughout the program and encouraged audience participation.

Another highlight that the audience loved was the father-son musical team, Noah and David Allen, from “The Journey Community Church in Worcester.” Noah played the trumpet and his father the guitar and they did an outstanding job of entertaining the crowd. Noah will be attending Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship.

Mistress of Ceremony was senior Tayla Weeden from WSU. In addition, on behalf of Mayor Joseph Petty an award was presented to Richard and Elizabeth Gonzalez for their service to the community by City Councilor Etel Hazhiaj.

Another longtime advocate for Worcester families: John Monfredo!

There were several award-winning students who received college scholarships for their academic and work within the community: John Bouhanna, Ian Njihia, Tiernan Ashford Ivory O’Neal, and Rachel Sinclair all from WSU. The awards were given out by WSU president Barry Maloney.

The winning poems certificates given out by community leader Dorothy Hargrove went to the following students:

Grade 12: Judith Adu-Worcester Technical High School and Kiauna Russell- North High School

Grade 11: Anya Geist-South High School and Kevin Avalos-University Park Campus School

Grade 10: Alexis-Danielle Coleman-North High, Fernanda Duerte- South High School, and Abenezer Asmare and Cayvon Johnson – University Park Campus School

Grade 9: Nakeisha Moise- North High School and Matthew O’Connell- Venerini

Grade8- Missage Budimbu – All Saints Academy, Alexander Kowalski and Gianna Rosario – Saint Joseph School, Sorelle Lavalle – Saint Bernadette School, Armeline Chaban, Ryan Donahue, Davi Nogueira, and Joseph Castillo all from Venerini Academy

Grade 7: Georgeanne Gajewski and Kaylie Bageris from All Saints Academy, Louisa Akowus, Terhon Donovan, Ana Serna from Burncoat High School – Molly Hachigian and Ella Parslow, Alvin Montreuil from Saint Joseph School – and Elizabeth Spillane from Venerini Academy.

The poems were outstanding and here is a sample of one of the winning poems:

He Stood With Us

He led many to The Lincoln Memorial and said:

“We may have all come on different ships,

But we’re in the same boat now.”

He said he had a dream.

He was right.

Now many people hold hands all around the world.

Black American, Asian, Latino, Indigenous

And all people of color Survive together.

He stood for the right to let people of color

choose who may be in charge.

He stood with us.

He fought with us.

Here I am, a 12 year Black girl,

Asking you to stand together

For the future he dreamed of.

Louisa Akowua – Burncoat Middle School

Again, both events were outstanding and did our city of Worcester proud.