MLK Youth Breakfast celebrates youth talents, honors Dr. King’s life

January 17, 2023
By: Nancy Sheehan

The 29th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Breakfast honored the life, principles, and philosophy of Dr. King, and encouraged youth to uphold his vision through poetry, song, and dance.

About 500 people attended the Jan. 14 breakfast, which was held in the May Street Building at Worcester State University. Guests included students, teachers, administrators from Worcester area schools, members of the local community, city officials, school committee members, and representatives from several local non-profit organizations. Also attending were U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern and Worcester Public School Superintendent Rachel Montárrez.

“We are thrilled to be in our 29th year celebrating our youth and our community members,” said Laxmi Bissoondial, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and chair of the MLK Jr. Youth Breakfast Committee. “It’s really geared toward providing an opportunity for our youth to showcase their gifts, talents and honor those within our community who exemplify the principles of Dr. King.”

President Barry M. Maloney gave opening remarks for the ceremony. “We need only look at the political climate our nation currently faces and the events that have happened, especially to those of us who are in the BIPOC community, which have been extremely difficult,” he said. “We’ve made some progress since the 1960s, but we still have, as a New England poet put it, miles to go before we sleep. And as another poet, Amanda Gorman, puts it, ‘Our nation is not broken. It’s just unfinished.’ It’s all too easy to throw up one’s hands, but I truly believe that our world is not broken. It’s just unfinished, and it’s time for us to get to work. It is work that we are willingly engaged in here at the state university.”

Dorothy Hargrove, an MLK Youth Breakfast co-founder and chair of its Poetry Committee, presented awards recognizing the achievements of 26 student winners of this year’s M.L.K., Jr. Poetry Contest. The students’ poems were printed in the event’s program, which was made available to each attendee.

“I want to say to the students, the young people, I’ve read your poems,” Rep. McGovern said. “They’re so hopeful and so optimistic and at a time when there’s great polarization in this country, you give us all hope. You all are here today because you believe in the dream of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. , you believe that racism and bigotry and hatred are wrong. And I can tell by reading your poems that you are dedicated to justice, to equality, to human rights, for everybody, not just in this country but around the world.”

A few of the audience members and presenters, including Hargrove, had been to all or almost all MLK Youth Breakfasts over its 29-year history, but many local students were new to the event.

“I’ve never been to this breakfast before, so I’m very excited to be here,” Trinity Ezedi, a senior at Whitinsville Christian School, said. “It’s an important way to memorialize Dr. King’s legacy and what he did for our nation and the progress that he made and the impact that he had on not only the African-American community but other communities as well. He made the world a better place.”

The event also featured dance and vocal performances by youth groups, such as Ritmos Dance Academy, Jo Ann Warren Studio, the Learning First Step Team, the Teen Program of Friendly House, and the Southeast Asian Coalition, which sent two big, friendly dragons dancing through the room, to the surprise and delight of the audience.

Stirring vocal performances were given by soloists Nasya Osei, a student at South High School, and Vanessa Ford, who led the room in the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” informally known as “The Black National Anthem.”

Worcester City Councilor Etel Haxhiaj presented the MLK Jr. George Storms Smith Youth Service Award to Richard and Elizabeth Gonzalez, founders of Net of Compassion, which provides food, clothing, shelter, showers, and recovery support to individuals on the streets of Worcester.
Councilor Haxhiaj also pråesented the MLK Jr. George Storms Smith Community Service Award to Badu Opku-Serwaa, a student at North High School. The award is given to a person who, through their actions and service to the community, personifies the legacy of Dr. King.

President Maloney presented Worcester State scholarships to John Bouhanna and Ian Njihia, both business administration majors in the Class of 2024. In his essay applying for the scholarship, Bouhanna said voting rights are under attacks today and that ignorance undermines our democracy. Njihia noted in his essay that voting taught him that contributing to society and having a voice in who our representatives are and how they represent us is essential to building our community.

Two Worcester State students were named recipients of the Olivia Rochelle Spencer Memorial Scholarship: Tiernan Ashford Ivory O’Neal ’25, an English major, and Rachael Sinclair ’24, a liberal studies major.

Craig Dottin ’94, principal of Vernon Hill School in Worcester, thanked Worcester State and the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) for an after-school Arts Initiative program that allowed his students to learn about Dr. King through artmaking. “When we see the visual part of the art, we just see what is on the surface,” he said. “But what actually happened and the impact that it had on my students, we feel that impact has been transformative.”

Bob Jennings, outreach/wraparound coordinator for OMA, recognized the two Worcester State students who worked with the Vernon Hill School on the project: Richard Bonsu ’24, a visual and performing arts major, and Maria Orozco Orjuela ’26, a psychology major. “Being a former teacher and a former principal, I know it’s not easy to get into a classroom with young people and make things happen,” Jennings said. “Well, they made things happen and we’re really very proud of them.”

Photos by Nancy Sheehan


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