Photo Gallery: Marting Luther King Jr. Day Ceremony at the Second Congregational Church

PITTSFIELD -- Faith and community spirit will lead to racial, social, economic and political equality for all in America.

Several speakers, including Rev. Carol Killian's keynote address, delivered that message during the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration hosted by the Second Congregational Church.

Killian, a former pastor of the church and now a licensed mental health counselor, urged the nearly 100 people gathered to rely on one's religious upbringing, as King did, toward realizing the slain civil rights leader's dream of ending discrimination across the U.S.

"We must all develop a discipline of prayer," said Killian. "Through prayer you can translate negative feelings into confidence and power."

King's vision of equality can only be achieved through activism, not apathy, according to Lucy Leonard, representing the Berkshire chapter of the NAACP.

"Change is to be demanded, not expected," she said. "Get off the sidelines, quit complaining and get involved."

Leonard and Killian were answering, "Where do we go from here?," the theme of Sunday's ceremony held on the eve of the legal holiday to commemorate King's birth on Jan. 15, 1929. The question was borrowed from a King speech of the same title given in 1967 that pondered the future of the country's decade-long civil rights' movement.

The music-filled, two-hour event also featured several uplifting spiritual songs such as "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," a favorite of King's and concluding with the classic, "We Shall Overcome." In addition, "Kids 4 Harmony", a group of student violinists from Morningside Community School and Herberg Middle School, performed to a standing ovation.

One social injustice Pittsfield wants to overcome is homelessness, a city problem exacerbated this winter by dwindling shelters and federal funding cutbacks. While municipal and social service agencies have been working to resolve the issue, Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn says the answer lies within the community, not government intervention.

"Give generously of your time, talent and wealth ... reach out to someone less fortunate," he said. "The solution is at a more basic level."

Nevertheless, federal and state governments can play a vital role, if lawmakers would put politics aside, according to Rev. Charles E. Pratt Jr. of Pittsfield.

"We have a Congress so polarized we can't move forward on health care," he noted. "We also need a time out for drugs and guns."

If people want change on Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill, Pittsfield state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier says let your voice be heard at the ballot box.

"I have one four-letter word for you -- vote," she said.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233