MLK Day starts on high note in Kennett

Members of the CommUNITY choir perform under the direction of Leon Spencer at the 15th Annual MLK Jr. CommUNITY of the Greater Kennett Area Breakfast.

The inspiring words of Martin Luther King Jr. reverberated throughout the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square on Monday, Jan. 18, at the 15th Annual MLK Jr. CommUNITY Breakfast.

Keynote speaker Jerry F. Poe (left) poses with his son, Jerry Franklin Poe.

Keynote speaker Jerry F. Poe (left) poses with his son, Jerry Franklin Poe.

About 350 people gathered to begin a day of service and to celebrate King’s legacy. Carol A. Black, vice-president of the MLK Jr. CommUNITY of the Greater Kennett Area, emceed the two-hour program, which featured tributes to King, both in speech and in song.

King’s message resounded melodiously during a crowd-pleasing performance by the CommUNITY Choir, which was directed by Leon R. Spencer, a former Kennett Square mayor and borough council president.

Among the songs presented were “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Negro national anthem; and “We Have a Dream,” which was written 15 years ago by Dennis Melton, a local architect who sang in the choir and also played the piano.

Trevor Seidel (left), a Unionville High senior, is joined at the podium by Chris Jones, a 1996 Kennett High graduate and area musician, for their 'Glory' solos.

Trevor Seidel (left), a Unionville High senior, is joined at the podium by Chris Jones, a 1996 Kennett High graduate and area musician, for their 'Glory' solos.

The group also delivered a rousing rendition of “Glory,” a John Legend song popularized by the film of the same name. Trevor Seidel, a Unionville High School senior, and Chris Jones, a 1996 Kennett High graduate and area musician, were featured soloists.

Black noted that Martin Luther King Day is the only federal holiday committed to community service. “It’s a day on, not a day off,” she said, adding that a number of the day’s activities, including the culmination of a food drive for the Kennett Food Cupboard, bring people closer to King’s vision of a loving, inclusive community.

The audience heard from Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, who stressed the importance of giving back to the community. She ended her remarks by quoting the late Rev. John Wesley who urged people “to do all the good that you can by all of the means that you can in all the ways that you can … as long as ever you can.”

Chester County Sheriff Carolyn 'Bunny' Welsh stresses the importance of community service.

Chester County Sheriff Carolyn 'Bunny' Welsh stresses the importance of community service.

State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19, presented a proclamation from the Senate that recognized the work of the CommUNITY organizers. He said that although Chester County is seventh in terms of population in the state, it has the fifth highest number of homeless children.

Dinniman used Family Promise, a new multi-faith initiative that’s serving homeless families in southern Chester County, as an example of the community’s commitment to reversing such grim statistics. Other programs that spotlight that same dedication to service are The Garage, The Lighthouse and After the Bell, he said.

The Rev. William G. George, Dan Cornett and Terrell Smith all gave evocative renditions of several of King’s speeches, and Jerry Franklin Poe introduced the keynote speaker: his father, Jerry F. Poe, the chair of the steering committee for the event.

State Sen. Andy Dinnigan (from left) is shown with emcee Carol A. Black and keynote speaker Jerry F. Poe at the MLK Jr. breakfast.

State Sen. Andy Dinnigan (from left) is shown with emcee Carol A. Black and keynote speaker Jerry F. Poe at the MLK Jr. breakfast.

The elder Poe expounded on the theme “We Hold These Truths,” acknowledging that some of today’s truths are unpleasant. For example, he pointed out that Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who always insists that he wants to be treated fairly, has suggested that President Obama has failed so miserably as the nation’s first black president that there likely won’t be another for many years.

Poe, a Kennett Square native, questioned the fairness of that view. He pointed out that when other presidents have disappointed the public no one has ever said: “So and so has done such a bad job that there won’t be another white president for generations.”

Despite some progress, much work remains, he said. He referenced sobering statistics about the disproportionate number of minority youth in prison and the lower median income for blacks.

“To fix a problem, we must first admit there is one,” he said. “This is not a blame game. This is about improving and finding solutions. All of us must be part of the change for the better.”

State Sen. Andy Dinniman (left) chats with Kennett Square Police Chief Edward A. Zunino after the program.

State Sen. Andy Dinniman (left) chats with Kennett Square Police Chief Edward A. Zunino at the end of the program.

Poe, a minister, entrepreneur and community activist, said his father relocated from West Virginia to Kennett Square to work in the mushroom industry to support his 10 children. He said the family was poor financially but reaped some rich rewards from others’ generosity.

One indelible memory involved a visit from Joseph Zunino, Poe said. Zunino, the uncle of Kennett Square Police Chief Edward A. Zunino, needed to collect some back taxes that Poe’s father didn’t have. Later, the family learned that Joseph Zunino had paid their tax bill.

“I’m not the same person I was” because of that random act of kindness, Poe said, urging others to follow that lead.

Poe likened racism to a big bully that needs to be stopped. “It’s not who we are that defines us, but what we do,” he said. “Don’t be silent; don’t let the bully triumph.”

 Proceeds from the breakfast support initiatives of the MLK Advocates, a group committed to promoting equality, and MLK CommUNITY scholarships to Camp Cadet, a program run by the Pennsylvania State Police, and to local high school graduates.

 

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
Loading...

About Kathleen Brady Shea

Kathleen Brady Shea, a nearly lifelong area resident, has been reporting on local news for several decades, including 19 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer. She believes that journalists provide a vital watchdog service in the community, and she embraces that commitment. In addition to unearthing news, she also enjoys digging up dirt in her garden, a hobby that frequently fosters Longwood Gardens envy. Along with her husband, Pete, she lives in a historic residence near the Brandywine Battlefield, a property that is also home to a sheep, a goat, and a passel of fish.

Comments

comments

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.