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Events throughout Portland honor Martin Luther King Jr.


NewsHubRacial tensions and social divisions stirred by the recent campaign and coming administration of President-elect Donald Trump were at the center of many comments made by speakers at the 36th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration dinner Monday night in Portland.
Between quoting the late civil rights leader and the singing of the Negro National Anthem, several of Maine’s political leaders called on people of all stripes to continue the fight against bigotry and hatred toward others.
U. S. Rep. Chellie Pingree received a standing ovation when she announced that she would join the growing number of Democratic members of Congress who won’t be attending Trump’s inauguration Friday.
“I’ll be staying right here in Maine,” Pingree said, noting that she’s acting in solidarity with Democratic U. S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and many others who have been insulted, belittled and fear what comes next in Trump’s 3 a.m. Twitter posts.
Pingree credited Lewis with showing her, in his words, how to “get in the way, get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.” She urged everyone in the room to take action, saying: “This democracy belongs to all of us. We’re all in this together.”
Maine Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, acknowledged that he has witnessed the “dark heart” of racism and bigotry among his mostly white constituents in northern Maine, including people he respects and admires.
“Words on a piece of paper claiming you are safe and equal do not make you safe and equal so long as the power structures still refuse to ensure your safety and acknowledge your equality,” Jackson told 640 attendees at the dinner hosted by the NAACP Portland Branch at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.
“So that’s why I want to say to each of you here today,” Jackson continued, “my powers are committed to beating back not only the tide of hate, but the sea from which it came.”
Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, recalled hearing her father, who was born in India, lament in recent years that he no longer felt as welcome as he once did in America in the late 1950s and early 1960s. She credited King with creating an atmosphere in which her father could feel welcome amid the sometimes horrific struggle for civil rights.
“We have the ability to come together again,” Gideon said before reading a legislative resolution declaring MLK Day that was drafted by newly elected state Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, who is president of the NAACP Portland Branch.
State Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, a moderate Republican who said candidate Trump wasn’t “fit to be president,” said Mainers should speak out against ignorance, intolerance, racism and “the fear of other people just because of where they come from.”
One keynote speaker was Sherri Mitchell, a Penobscot Indian who is a lawyer and executive director of the Land Peace Foundation, which protects the rights of indigenous people. She urged her listeners to “persist against the tyranny unfolding around us.”
“It is no time to be afraid. It is only a time to be strong,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to sing the same song. We’re here today to bring light into the shadows.”
A second keynote speaker was Najma Abdullahi, a member of the NAACP’s King Fellows in Portland public schools. She recalled a recent encounter with a white man who insulted her Muslim faith as he passed her on the street.
“The world has a habit of treating black women as subhuman,” Abdullahi told the audience. “Racism makes it difficult to live. I am what this country needs and not what it should destroy.”
Other speakers included Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis, who urged various groups to help each other gain ground in Augusta, and Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, who said “it’s always darkest before the dawn” and urged people to “find ways to be arm in arm.”
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