Martin Luther King’s teaching extolled at Dover Service
Somersworth Bureau Chief
DOVER — Changes in popular thought since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech in Washington D.C. and how much work remains to achieve his dream were the theme of a celebration called Our Changing Diversity.
"Something strange is happening," the Rev. Robert Ervin said. "The world we had become accustomed to is changing. … It’s a dangerous and wonderful thing."
The program, held at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Sunday, featured speakers Charlotte Wood, past president of the seacoast chapter of NAACP; Chabaz Azarkadeh, a member of the Baha’i Community of Durham, and David Slater, senior minister of the First Parish Church in Dover.
Wood, who is a diversity consultant for McIntosh College, said she remembered the effect King had on the black community.
"I just remember a man who galvanized my people like I never thought possible," she said. "The March on Washington was the way the nation learned about Dr. King’s ways of non-violence."
Although she wanted to take part in the historic march, she had to care for a sick relative at the time.
"The pictures of people, tens of thousands of them, walking to hear this man speak" were overwhelming, she said.
Azarkadeh began by telling the people filling the church about a childhood experience in Teheran, the capitol of Iran.
"There was something wrong," he said of the feel in the air. He and his mother went to visit her great-aunt, he said, as was custom on the Persian New Year. "We were not welcome … (We knew) any plate or glass we touched would be thrown away when we left because we were considered unclean. We belonged to another religion."
He said, like King, his mother taught him to love others and he did not understand the treatment they received from his mother’s relative or, later in his life, when a sacred Baha’i center in Teheran was destroyed by the military.
"I learned about their religion and thought it was wonderful. What was wrong with mine?" he asked. "(King’s) dream was that a black boy would not be judged by his color but by his character. I, too, wished I could be judged by my character, not my religion. … When I came to the United States, it was like a breath of fresh air. I could speak publicly about my religion."
Azarkadeh said working with Dover Cooperative Ministries is a dream come true for him.
"I can see the organization of my dreams because we are of different religions sitting together, talking together and working together," he said. "The claim of finality and exclusivity (of some religions) has caused so much violence all over the world."
Keynote speaker David Slater said living King’s dream has costs that a society must be willing to pay.
"We are here tonight to keep a dream alive … and to keep it alive we must do more than dream," he said.
He said popular thinking has changed in the recent past, but some thought has not.
"I say this as a Protestant man. (In the past) if a Catholic family moved in next door we’d say ‘there goes the neighborhood,’" he said to the amusement of the audience at the arcane thought, "but we’ve learned to let that go. If a Jewish family moved into the neighborhood we had concerns and made sure they didn’t join the country club, but we’ve let that go. … If an immigrant family moved in, or someone in a religious minority moved in, there were concerns, but now we think our neighborhood is so cosmopolitan … If a black family moved in we thought, ‘Well, don’t let another one move in ‘cause there goes the property values.’ This is one we haven’t gotten over yet … Blacks have been in this country as long as Europeans and still we don’t see ourselves as one.
"One of the costs of coming to a meeting like this, you may have your conscious pricked and you may have to do something," he warned. Children "need to learn from us who our neighbor is and to welcome them into our home."
The Dover High School mixed chorus closed the program with "Song for the Unsung Hero" and "In My World."
A closing prayer thanked God for all the different religions, traditions and ceremonies people choose to follow and for all their work for peace.
©Copyright 2003, Foster's Online (Dover, NH, USA)
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