WATERVILLE — More than 45 years since his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of nonviolence acceptance hasn’t faltered. Unfortunately, neither have the issues he stood up against.
This was the sentiment Monday morning at Spectrum Generation’s Muskie Center, where nearly 150 people gathered for breakfast and to speak about the civil rights activist on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The magnitude of King’s spirit was apparent in Waterville, where dozens of people came together to continue King’s message.
One person who wasn’t at the breakfast was Gov. Paul LePage, a regular attendee. LePage had been scheduled to go, but cited illness.
Several people spoke about King’s importance, including the Rev. Effie McClain from the Oakland and Sidney United Methodist Church and Kurt Nelson, the dean of religious and spiritual life at Colby College.
“Dr. King is part of all of our story,” Nelson said. Referring to King’s history 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, he said, “We have a tendency to condense Dr. King into a few quick moments and lines of text.
“The Problem when Dr. King gets stuck in only that moment, we risk turning him into a platitude instead of a man.”
Nelson cited another historic speech, one King gave in 1967, where he asked, “Where do we go from here?”
“It’s still a messy time,” Nelson said. “To figure out where to go from here, we need to recognize where we are now.”
Where to go from here was a theme Monday morning, as central Maine residents young and old, black and white, remembered a man who dreamed of gatherings such as the one at the Muskie Center.
“It’s a good way to acknowledge what he stood for,” said Sally Harwood, 61, of Winslow. “The â€˜I Have a Dream’ speech still resonates with me.”
Harwood was a young girl living on Burleigh Street when she heard King speak those words through her black and white television.
“I remember being amazed at the nonviolent way of trying to bring about change and what it must have taken to do that. I’m still amazed,” she said. “It’s just really good to be here and be reminded of it in a world that has forgotten about nonviolence.”
David Deas, 65, of Winslow, said he’s been to more than 15 Martin Luther King Day breakfasts in Waterville. Along with his friend Bud Vassey, 66, of Winslow, the two attend the event to continue what King envisioned.
“We come here to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King and to see the community,” Deas said. “We see people here we may see only once a year. We talk about peace and civil rights.”
Both Deas and Vassey were affected by the civil rights tumult of the 1950s and â€˜60s. Vassey moved to South Carolina as a senior in high school after living out west. It was there in South Carolina in 1964 that he saw the intolerance first hand.
“That was the first time I had seen signs that said â€˜colored’ and â€˜white’ over water fountains and things like that,” he said, adding that when he graduated in 1965, his high school had yet to integrate.
Before moving to Maine in the mid-1960s, Deas lived in Arkansas during the 1950s, gaining an up-close perspective on the racial divide of the time.
“There was a lot of pushback and a lot of danger,” Deas said, adding that he remembers Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus call out the National Guard in 1957 to prevent Little Rock High School from integrating.
Despite moving to Maine, a state “very different” from Arkansas, Deas said, as a black man he still experiences the issues that King tried to prevent decades ago.
“I experienced a racist incident just last week, right here in Waterville,” Deas said, though he would not elaborate on it. “The problem is not fixed.”
As of the 2012 U.S. Census, nearly 97 percent of Maine’s population was white, making it the least diverse state in the nation. The lack of diversity has created racial tension in the state, Vassey said.
“I think racism is not dead in Maine by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “Things are different, but you still have a lot of prejudices. Tension exists based on differences. Martin Luther King wanted to see the differences dissolve away.”
Waterville Mayor Karen Heck and State Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, attended the breakfast.
In addition to McClain’s and Nelson’s speeches, a group of third-graders from George J. Mitchell School shared their dreams and the Getchell Street Baptist Church Choir sang for the audience.
A moment of silence was held at the beginning of the event for Spectrum Generations employee Ryan Porier, who died unexpectedly last week.