Maine Seeds celebrate MLK Day, partner with NAACP to facilitate youth dialogue
PORTLAND | The Maine Seeds program partnered with the Portland branch of the NAACP to help lead aspects of Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances this year.
“The event showed our Maine Seeds—both older alums and new graduates—working together with other young community leaders to help address major issues facing our state,” said Maine Seeds Director Tim Wilson.
The celebration of Dr. King’s birthday was held January 14-16 and focused on “The Challenge of Democracy: Confronting Race, Class and Power.”
On January 7, 10 Seeds met at the Casey Family Services Building in Portland with young adults from across Maine to discuss democracy, poverty, and facilitation skills in honor of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy.
“We talked about Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and the facts about the distribution of wealth in our country before delving into some subtle techniques for guiding a dialogue while allowing it to develop into a deep and meaningful conversation,” said Spencer, a Seed who participated in the training.
Following the training, the Seeds helped facilitate a community dialogue focused on democracy and poverty in conjunction with the City of Portland, Homeless Voices for Justice, Learning Works, Maine Interfaith Youth Alliance, Portland Housing Authority, Preble Street, United Way of Greater Portland, and the University of New England.
About 150 community members of varying ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds participated in the discussion on January 14 at the Preble Street Resource Center, forming small groups to talk about Dr. King’s ideas on race, class, and power. Seeds used their facilitation skills to guide community members through questions and conversation.
“We Maine Seeds who helped out already had significant experience with dialogues such as these and were able to do very well in keeping the talk respectful and focused,” said Spencer. “These discussions were very deep, personal accounts about issues which these people had dealt with first hand. Everybody who came had something to bring to the table and it really helped to shape a vibrant conversation about these issues.”
“Although many disagreed on certain points, and though at some points the conversation may have been a little heated, everybody agreed that these types of conversations, in which people can come together and openly share their experiences in the hopes of fostering greater understanding, are the foundation of our democracy,” said Stephanie, another Maine Seed.
After the dialogues, the Seeds and community members marched to City Hall with the message that the people have a voice and have the power to make a change.
In addition to facilitating discussions, Seeds attended performances that were also a part of the three-day celebration.
”We were invited to the Music and Gospel Concert at Merrill Auditorium to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s message through cultural performances by Portland performers,” said Spencer. “This moving performance included songs and dances from Portland Somali representatives, drumming from the Congolese drum group Batimbo Beats, a children’s choir, and two passionate gospel choirs.”
Two Seeds, Jocelyn and Abukar, were selected to be the Masters of Ceremony for the closing State of the State address hosted by the Portland NAACP on January 16, discussing the notion and status of equity in Maine.
The event “was a very sincere call for remembrance not only of King’s life, but also the message which he hoped would continue affecting our lives well after his death,” said Stephanie.
“The message, which was conveyed by various political and religious leaders, was that racial, economic, and social equality have not yet been reached in our country, but that they are certainly attainable goals as long as we do not lose focus and we stay true to Dr. King’s words and actions.”
Jocelyn and Abukar will continue their involvement as “MLK Fellows,” building on their experience by continuing to address issues related to justice and poverty.
The Maine Seeds credited their Seeds of Peace experience with helping them become leaders, both in the framework of this event and in tackling social and economic challenges facing their state.