The Chelsea community is gearing up for the annual Rev. Dr. Marthin Luther King Jr. Celebration Breakfast that will be held on Monday, Jan. 21 beginning at 9 a.m. at Chelsea High School.
The Rev. Sandra Whitley, pastor at the People’s A.M.E. Church on Bellingham Street, is leading the effort as chairperson for the fourth time and will serve as mistress of ceremonies for the program.
The tribute to Dr. King is an especially momentous occasion for the Rev. Whitley, who grew up in Montgomery, Alabama and was touched in her life by the very racism that King, a renowned civil rights leader, tried to eradicate.
“My knowledge of Dr. King became acute after he was assassinated in 1968, while I was in Illinois at the time,” said Whitley, daughter of Otha Gatlin, a retired U.S. Air Force non-commissioned officer. “When Dr. King died, it was like everything stood still and the world stopped because it was beyond belief that he was assassinated.”
Whitley encountered what she felt was “indirect” racial discrimination in Illinois in the late 1960s when her family was denied housing opportunities in the area in which they wanted to reside.
Whitley returned to Alabama and attended Alabama State University and while working in a department store a young boy made a racist remark in her presence.
“It wasn’t pretty,” recalled Whitley about the incident.
After graduating from Alabama State with a degree with Business Administration, Whitley was commissioned into the United States Air Force and served for 22 years. Upon her retirement, and completion of both a Master of Divinty and Master of Arts degree in counseling at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, she came to Chelsea and began her ministry at the People’s A.M.E. Church in Chelsea.
Whitley said Dr. King has been “a wonderful inspiration” in her life. “He wanted justice. He had a dream, he had a vision and he stuck with it. To now be in the clergy like Dr King and knowing God’s Word, I know we are to live with one another – to put in to practice those principles with the “strength to love” as he esposed and wrote in his book by the same name.
“What really stands out for me is that we’re celebrating this 25th year of the national holiday for Dr. King,” said Whitley.
Whitley said the Chelsea breakfast will include a speaking program, the reading of essays by public school contest winners, and a touching video about a girl, Ruby Bridges, who was at first denied admission to an elementary school in Arkansas before being given access to the school.
Andrea J. Cabral, the former Suffolk County Sheriff and now state Secretary of Public Safety, will be the keynote speaker, and music by the CHS music department.
Whitley said she is grateful for the assistance she has received from City Manager Jay Ash, Councilor-at-Large Calvin Brown, Deborah Washington, Henry Wilson, Arnold Cox, REACH executive director Linda Alioto-Robinson, Senior Center director Tracy Nowicki, Beverly Martin Ross, Chelsea High teacher Ilana Ascher, Attorney Cheryl Watson, Superintendent of School Dr. Mary Bourque, and Chelsea Cable Television executive director Robert Bradley. And all the local businesses and non profit agencies who support this community event by giving advertisement donations, such as Bunker Hill Community College, Metro Credit Union, KAYEM, Chelsea Collaborative, Chelsea Bank, the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Chelsea Housing Authority, Katz Bakery, Market Basket, Stop-n-Shop, and BJ’s. Greg’s Service Station, and a host of other committed supporters.
Whitley also noted her appreciation to Councilor-at-Large Leo Robinson and his brother Ronald Robinson, leaders of the Latimer Society “for welcoming my husband [the Rev. Kenneth Whitley] and me to the community and pointing us in the right direction to get connected.”
Whitley said the theme of this year’s breakfast is “Reaching Our Dream: A Community of Unity.” Special “Spirit Awards” and the “Young Adult Dreamers and Achievers Awards” will be presented to individuals who “have contributed by engaging in community service and being inclusive, putting into place the dream of everyone while serving one another.”
State Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty and State Sen. Sal DiDomenico are also expected to be in attendance at the breakfast.