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Maui groups honor MLK

Rain didn’t dampen annual march and ceremony already set for a virtual celebration

Maui County groups shared speeches, prayers, songs and poems in honor of the late Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most influential leaders of the civil rights movement who dreamt of equality and peace throughout the United States.

Hundreds usually gather in Wailuku for the annual MLK Peace March, followed by a ceremony of speeches and music, but this year the event was held via Zoom due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions.

“Dr. King envisioned the beloved community as a society based on justice, equal opportunity and love for one’s fellow human beings, and his global vision in which all people could share in the wealth of the earth, that’s what we’re talking about today,” said Ayin Adams, African Americans on Maui Association board member and Zoom mediator. “In the beloved community, the poverty, the hunger and the homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it.”

The nonprofit association, whose mission is to teach history, arts and culture in Hawaii, hosted about 60 viewers on Monday afternoon for the two-hour virtual event, including members of the Maui United Buddhist Women’s Association, Aloha in Action, Temple of Peace, Hawaii State Teachers Association, Sistahs of the Drum and others.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said Monday that Jan. 15 represents an important day in history of a man with a powerful message.

“When I used to watch him on TV and understand that his message of peace and racial equality was so very important, no matter where you lived in this world, no matter who you are,” Victorino said. “Martin Luther King in my mind is one of the greatest men who ever stepped on this world. He did so much, not only for African Americans but for all of us, all ethnicities who have been somewhat put on the side and left behind.

“Every human being is important, and that’s one of the messages I remember.”

Noting the protests preceding the presidential inauguration, Victorino said that the past few weeks have “seemed to take us a step back an awful lot,” though he added that he was proud of how the state of Hawaii is open to all views, religions, races and genders.

“Most importantly, we honor his peaceful approach, and that’s something I’ve been very proud of,” he said. “No matter what happens here on Maui, we’ve always done peacefully, following his word and his example.”

Guest speaker Alphonso Braggs, president of the Honolulu-Hawaii NAACP, 26-year Navy veteran and a lifelong social and civil justice advocate, spoke on the main points behind King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” public speech that called for economic and civil justice, and an end to racism.

Braggs said that King wanted future generations to be judged by the “contents of their character,” not by the color of their skin or position in society.

“He was admonishing us to judge each other by our attributes, our courage, our lasting reputation,” said Braggs, who also serves on the NAACP board of directors, Japanese American Citizens League Honolulu Chapter and the California-Hawaii NAACP State Conference Executive Committee. “It should challenge us to work in better harmony for a better tomorrow . . . To come together as a people in order to achieve change that benefits the whole of humanity, and not just a selected few.”

In Monday’s rain before the Zoom meeting, Maui United Buddhist Women’s Association president Sharon Nohara placed a lei for MLK at the Stone of Hope Monument in front of the county building like she does each year.

“Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence by way of resistance for justice and equality resonates deeply within us,” Nohara said. “Let us all be motivated and encouraged by his message as we work for this change. The time is always right to do what is right.”

Also during the virtual event, Bryant Neal reenacted King’s iconic speeches, “I Have a Dream” and “If I Had Sneezed.”

Following other performances and prayer, International Peace Poem Project Awards Director Melinda Gohn said that around 584 Maui County students from nine schools had submitted poems to the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Poetry competition.

Gohn read the winning poem of this year’s competition called “Better Together” by a 5th-grade student from Roots School, Isla Harris.

Local officials also acknowlegded King on Monday and expressed hope that his values could serve as a blueprint for the community. In a Facebook post, Rep. Lynn DeCoite said that “today we honor the life, principles and teachings” of King.

“My hope for all of us during these unprecedented times is that we can use his teachings as examples for how we can all move forward to have communities that are healthy, safe and full of aloha,” said DeCoite, who represents Molokai, Lanai and East Maui.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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