This year’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast in Hauppauge marked the 30th anniversary of the event. But the annual breakfast — sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Riverhead and the Rev. Charles Coverdale — was special for more than its noteworthy recurrence.
Local advocate and civic leader Robert “Bubbie” Brown of Riverside was honored Monday for his many years of service to the community. Mr. Brown — the News-Review’s Public Servant of the Year in 2010 — spoke with the newspaper Monday to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and what must still be done to fulfill his dream.
Q: What does it mean to you to be honored on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?
A: It’s humbling that people think enough of me to give me this award on this day. I know that his spirit is an awesome spirit. He was a person with such foresight that it is extremely humbling to me to be honored on his day. Even the other people on the dais with me — I’m like “Wow. I’m up here with some heavy hitters.” … I still feel like I’m levitating. It looked like what everything should look like: with a blend of all different kinds of people coming together and enjoying a morning.
Q: Race and equality have become part of the national dialogue in the past few months. What do you reflect on today, in light of recent events?
A: I think the attitude that most people took the Southerners as having is now in the North. They’ve traded in the white sheets for three-piece suits. I’m very sorry for these police officers that got shot; that was a horrible thing. But they may have been paying the penalty for some wrong-doing man in blue who had hurt someone else. There are bad apples in every barrel and there are a few rotten cops, but they make it bad for everybody.
Q: What progress have you seen in Riverhead?
A: Progress? I don’t see it. I’m 74 years old and I can remember so many black businesses in Riverhead. And now it’s totally gone. There’s nothing. In Town Hall there’s nothing. The biggest employee of Riverhead is the school system and there’s very few of us in the school system. As far as educators, it’s minimal. I think people are friendlier toward each other than they have been in the past. But on the whole, sometimes I wonder if it’s a facade, if it’s just a superficial kindness that they’re sharing. Because if it really were true, things would be different.
Q: So what still needs to be done to fulfill MLK’s dream of equality?
A: Equality is not yet prevalent in society. It’s going to take everybody taking a look at themselves. Take a look at yourself and if you like the person that you see, you’re probably on the right track. But if you look at yourself honestly, all of us have rust spots on our armor. I think everybody has to strive very hard to be a better person … It’s going to take a while for his dream to come to realization, when equality is a way of life instead of something to strive for.