Medical student Kumba Hinds celebrated the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s birthday by guiding middle-schoolers onto the path she forged.
Hinds was one of dozens of adults showed up to one of Monday’s main New Haven’s events in honor of the slain civil rights leader: a day-long “Drum Mayor for Justice” celebration at Wexler-Grant Community School.
Some, like Hinds, came to run workshops advising young people on staying out of prison, getting to college, relaxing, eating right, managing money. Others came to sell beauty or art products at a fair in the cafeteria. All said they were there in the spirit of King.
Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison brought voter-registration cards and lessons about participating in government for her “Politics 101” workshop. This is her third year running the MLK Day workshop. “The big thing with Dr. King, he understood how politics, understanding government, is going to be the piece that makes us free as black people. Not just blacks, all people. I want my community to understand the politics of New Haven so they can participate in this process,” said Morrison, who noted that King belonged to Alpha Phi Alpha, one of the “divine nine” black fraternities and sororities. She belongs to Alpha Kappa Alpha.
Emmanuel Nwachuka joined Hinds in leading a worship on “navigating the education system from high school to graduate school.” “The more youth that we inspire to seek higher education, it’s going to create awareness. It’s going to help make the world a better place. I think that was Dr. King’s dream—to leave the world a better place” in part through higher education, Nwachuka said. Added Hinds: “We want to get them early so they can start thinking about different professions they might want to pursue and provide them some concrete steps on getting there.”
A similar dream inspired Derick Sampson to don a cheetah-style backpack and stand next to a man in a cheetah costume in the Wexler cafeteria fair. They worked a table for a not-for-profit called My Dream Cheetah. (CHEETAH is an acronym “Connect to Higher Education Electronic Tools Application and Help.”) Sampson’s mother, Paulette Lawrence, created the not-for-profit to start kids thinking about college at a young age. She designed a Cheetah wind-up toy, wrote songs, created books. “Dr King had a dream at one point. That’s everyone’s favorite quote. My mom had a dream. When I was in high school, sophomore year, she started this,” Sampson said. (His mom wasn’t present at the booth Monday.) “She felt that a lot of my friends weren’t interested in going to school.What she wants to do is get that mindset in young kids, you don’t necessarily need to work a 9-to-5 labor job, if you apply yourself at an early age.”
Personal shopper Alfreda Warner of New Haven credited King in part for her decision to launch V’s Accessories (“True girlfriends are like great pieces of jewelry—bright, beautiful and always in style!”), wares of which she displayed Monday. “He’s helped us to move on,” she said of King. “He said that he believes in the dream; that dream has inspired me to pursue this dream of accessories.”
Two women working the Mary Kay Cosmetics booth had a King spin, too. Shirley Ellis-West, who runs the street outreach program at the New Haven Family Alliance, has begun developing a side cosmetics business with the help of veteran Mary Kay “Independent Beauty Consultant” Dani Nixon. “Mary Kay is about beautifying yourself, keeping yourself healthy, your skin healthy particularly [for] women of color,” Ellis-West said as she sat with Nixon Monday. “It has evolved into some wonderful products for women of color. Dr. King talked years ago of blacks and whites coming together. This is one example of that.”