City to celebrate 50th anniversary of MLK's March on Washington with four day celebration

City to celebrate 50th anniversary of MLK's March on Washington with four day celebration

WOONSOCKET - Ten years ago, Martin Luther King Day in Woonsocket was acknowledged by a small gathering in the basement of St. James Baptist Church, and little more.

The parish celebrated the life of the civil rights leader by handing out college scholarships to worthy local students, and commemoration of the day was mostly kept within the church community.

Times have changed.

In 2014, the city will commemorate the 50th anniversary of King's March on Washington, where he delivered the inspirational "I Have a Dream" speech, with a four-day-long celebration. The events, beginning on Friday, Jan. 17, will include a banquet, a job fair, a worship service, a memorial ceremony and a community service project for city youth.

The events have been coordinated and funded through the work of the MLK Day Planning Committee, a volunteer group including representatives from local government, the church community and several non-profits organizations.

"It's a team effort," said Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas Carey, who's been involved with the city's MLK Day celebration for the past several years. "You have to try to work to bring the community together and this is one way to do that." The celebration will start Friday night with the annual J.W. Hinson Scholarship banquet to be held at Savini's Restaurant at 476 Rathbun St. Kwanza Hall, a city council member in Atlantic City, N.J., will be the guest speaker at the event, which will take place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Hall has served on the council in since 2005 and is known for his work in mobilizing the constituency in his district. He was invited to Woonsocket after a member of the MLK Day Committee heard him speak.

"He does a lot of outreach, especially with children and seniors, and Dr. King did that as well," said Carol Wilson-Allen, an active member of St. James. "We're quite happy to have him."

The banquet is used to raise funds for two scholarships sponsored annually by the church, a community scholarship open to Woonsocket High School seniors that usually amounts to around $1,000 and the J.W. Hinson Memorial Scholarship, a smaller award of around $500, which is given to an active, young member of the parish.

Tickets for the banquet cost $25 and can be purchased at St. James Baptist Church, the Tyra Club and the NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley office at 141 Olo St.

The Woonsocket Career Fair, a new event added to the city's festivities this year, will be held on Saturday, Jan. 18, at Woonsocket High School. The free job fair is open to anyone seeking employment and will include coffee and refreshments, with opening remarks delivered by Hall at 9 a.m. The committee will be collecting donations of professional, clean clothing, shoes and other items for job seekers.

"Some people can't afford those things," said Carey, who added that the committee hopes to help out job seekers of all ages. "We want to try to get some of the youth prepared to get into the work force."

Employers that are interested in having a free table at the fair are asked to contact mmorisseau@neighborworksbrz.org or call 401-762-0993 ext. 233. Small businesses and nonprofit organizations are welcomed.

On Sunday, St. James will hold their MLK worship service with the Rev. Sammy C. Vaughn at the church at 340 South Main St. All religions are welcomed to the ceremony, which will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. and will be led by guest pastor Carl A. Balark.

The weekend culminates with a memorial ceremony to be held on Martin Luther King Day, Monday, Jan. 20, at the sculpture garden across from the church on South Main Street from 10 to 11 a.m.

The "garden" itself - a minipark marked with several brightly colored silhouettes, including one of King - is a product of the same group of dedicated volunteers. It was grant-funded and built in 2012 as part of that year's celebration. In 2013, the MLK Committee organized a "Day of Service" and hundreds turned out to help paint murals in the Woonsocket High School Gym and Woonsocket YMCA, and clean Kevin K. Coleman Elementary School.

This year, they've organized a youth service learning project at the church, with volunteers collecting food and other items for the homeless from 11 to 2 p.m. For more information, or to volunteer, contact nofokansi@neighborworksbrv.org or call 401-762-0993 ext. 233

This year's celebration will mark the 50th anniversary of King's historic march - a political rally attended by some 200,000 Americans, which is seen as a key moment in the struggle for civil rights.

Carey was involved with a similar committee in his previous community of St. Petersburg, Fla. and became involved locally after taking the position as chief in Woonsocket in 2008.

"I had a chance to witness what African Americans had to go through in Florida. The community went through a lot to get it to become a recognized holiday and have a parade on Main Street," he said.

The St. Petersburg event has since grown into enormous celebration attracting marching bands from across the country, and Carey has tried to bring some of that positive energy with him to his role in Woonsocket.

"It's important the community has someone they can celebrate, and it's not just for the African American community," Carey said. "He was an inspiration for a lot of people."