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Seeking diversity, equity inclusion an ongoing task Martin Luther King Day marked

Leaders, civic and political, came together with students, children and celebrants Monday, Jan. 15 to commemorate Martin Luther King Day at Cathedral Church of the Nativity on Wyandotte Street in South Bethlehem.

Master of ceremonies Esther Lee, president of the Bethlehem Chapter of the NAACP, opened the event, which packed the large meeting room off the main sanctuary of the church.

The commemoration of Dr. King was imbued with religious references as well as more secular pledges to continue the struggle for civil rights.

Rev. Clinton Bryant, chaplain of the chapter, offered a prayer. The Rev. Johathan R. Stratton, dean and rector of The Cathedral Church of the Nativity offered remarks.

Bethlehem Mayor j. William Reynolds led with one of the messages from local leaders. “Martin Luther King helped other people in their own lives,” Reynolds said. “and that’s not something that you can ever cross off the list. That’s the spirit within you. And one of the great things about our city is from Miss Lee to Mr. Stratton, to all of you, we have 76,000 people in this city that believe in their bones that when they wake up tomorrow there’s a new challenge and new person to help and that’s what today is about. The understanding that you are not alone.”

Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent Dr. Jack Silva said that the right to read is an unspoken civil right.

“I pledge to you that as long as I am the superintendent of schools, students being able to read at grade level is the most important goal that we have,” Silva said. “To make sure that we are creating those students with the intellect and character that Martin Luther King [envisioned].”

Northampton County Executive Director Lamont McClure reminded his audience that work on diversity and equity inclusion is an ongoing task.

“We’re facing a reaction regarding our gains,” McClure said. “So, we need to again recommit ourselves to diversity and equity inclusion and not be afraid.”

McClure said he is proud of steps the county has taken, especially in crisis intervention.

“That training helps first responders, including, importantly, police officers, recognize when someone is having a mental health crisis or is in the grips of a drug episode,” McClure explained. “Crisis intervention training helps de-escalate the situation. Hundreds of county first responders have been trained, and we’re taking intervention a step further.

“We’ve trained more than 100 police officers in Northampton County about recognizing their own implicit bias which can cause an encounter to go so wrong.

“I just wanted to let everybody know that we’re doing the work here and that we’re doing it in cooperation and consultation with our first responders, including our police officers,” McClure said, “and we’re going to keep doing that moving forward in the future.”

Keynote speaker Moravian student Zoey Bronson kept the rapt attention of the attendees with her assessment of current status of voting rights.

“Voter suppression has resurfaced with various barriers, such as strict voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and restricted voting times,” she said.

She said the 2013 Supreme Court ruling further threatened democracy by striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, allowing states to change voting laws without procedural protections in place.

“This ruling threatens democracy and disproportionately affects racial minorities, the impoverished, young and senior voters<” Bronson said. “This is discrimination and does not align with the meaning of democracy because the minority’s right to fully participate in the electoral process is being stripped away.”

Quoting Dr. King, she said, “‘We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power. The whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.’”

She said that Dr. King implores us to understand that racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are inextricably linked.

“To eradicate one, we must address them all,” she continued. “To put our own house in order, we must engage in a collective examination of our values and commit to dismantling the systemic issues that perpetuate inequality and injustice.

She emphasized that Dr. King’s words serve as a reminder that the pursuit of a more just and equitable society requires a commitment to systemic change.

“The evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism cannot be dismantled in isolation,” Bronson said. “They are deeply intertwined, and addressing one necessitates addressing them all. To engage in this transformative process, we must actively participate in reshaping the structures that perpetuate inequality.”

In addition to speeches, the En L’ Air Dance Company of Philadelphia provided dance entertainment.

A collection of songs closed out the ceremony. Northeast MS choir sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and “Great Day.” Soloist Kelsey Bolash, a student at Nitschmann MS, sang “Up the Mountain.” Pianist Pablo Dylan, also a student at Nitschmann, played, “River Flows in You.” The audience joined in singing the closing hymn, “We Shall Overcome.”

press photo BY DOUGLAS GRAVES Liberty HS students Kasiah Dickenson, Jayden Cook, Ines Garcia, Mikiyah Finley and Helena Perera at the ceremony on Wyandotte Street in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem NAACP President Esther Lee presides over the Martin Luther King celebration at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity.
Giovanna Caytuero and Nicole Sarvio join in the singing.
BASD Supt. Dr. Jack Silva pledged that as long as he is the superintendent of schools, students being able to read at grade level is the most important goal, creating students with the intellect and character that Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned.
“Dr. King's words serve as a reminder that our pursuit of a more just and equitable society requires a commitment to systemic change,” said keynote speaker Zoey Bronson, a student at Moravian University.
7195 En L' Air Dance Company of Philadelphia provides dance entertainment.
Kelsey Bolash of Nitschmann MS sings “Up the Mountain.”
Pablo Dylan of Nitschmann MS plays “River Flows in You.”