If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, he would be 82.
If Dr. King could have spoken at the 26th annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Hauppauge Monday morning, he would have hailed the progress the country has made toward racial equality, but he’d insist more had to be done.
So believes the Rev. Charles Coverdale of First Baptist Church of Riverhead, which sponsored the breakfast. He was one of several community leaders and elected officials who addressed an audience of about 700 on the need for racial harmony and respect among all people.
Among those attending was John White, the Miller Place man convicted of manslaughter in the death of Daniel Cicciaro during a confrontation in front of Mr. White’s home in August 2006. Gov. David Paterson commuted Mr. White’s sentence in December, less than six months after he had begun serving time.
The Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, president of SUNY/Old Westbury and senior pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, was keynote speaker and gave a passionate speech to the elated, supportive crowd, praising Dr. King for devoting his life to the fight for justice.
Many whites and blacks, Dr. Butts said, face the same challenges — poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, lack of health insurance — and Dr. King worked to improve the lives of all people regardless of color.
He denounced the profiling and stereotyping of Muslims. “People are so worried about Muslim terrorists. What is wrong with America?” Dr. Butts asked. He said he was “a man who recognized terrorism and it did not come with a name that sounded Middle Eastern … somebody who remembers terrorism that came with white sheets and a cross burning.”
In his speech, Congressman Steve Israel cited the recent shootings in Tucson, Ariz., in which 13 people were injured and six killed, and said the country needs to work toward a climate of peacefulness and togetherness.
“It is time to stop hating each other,” said Mr. Israel, drawing a round of loud applause from the audience. “It is time to stop violating each other. It is time to stop the cycle of them versus us, of Fox versus MSNBC, of blue versus red, of rich versus poor.”
County Executive Steve Levy also emphasized the need to eradicate racial injustice.
“If you are calling to buy a house, if you have an Anglo-sounding name, you are far more likely to get a return call than if you have an ethnic-sounding name,” Mr. Levy said.
Proceeds from the breakfast will benefit the Family Life Community Center in Riverhead.