WATERVILLE — Look yourself in the mirror every morning and ask what you can do to further justice in the world.

That was the message David Deas said he hoped the audience would embrace on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“I’d like you to make a commitment that when you see injustice happen, that you speak up,” he said.

David Deas performs Monday at the 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast at Spectrum Generations Muskie Center in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

Deas, of Waterville, was speaking Monday to more than 100 city and school officials, children and other area residents who turned out for the 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast at Spectrum Generations Muskie Community Center on Gold Street. The event was sponsored by both Waterville Rotary Club and Spectrum Generations.

Deas, who is retired and performs and teaches music, formerly worked in human resources, sales and training at S.D. Warren, a division of Scott Paper Co. which is now Sappi. He also served as assistant registrar at University of Southern Maine where he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in educational psychology.

His father served in the U.S. Army in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and Deas, as a youth, lived wherever his father was posted, including Arkansas, Alaska and finally Maine.

Deas said it would be difficult for anyone who was alive in the 1950s and 1960s not to be impacted by King, for whom he wanted Monday’s audience to “have a joy and a wonderful feeling about.”

“He was a very important person in our history and a role model for many of us,” Deas, who spoke in front of a wall where a large black and white slide portrait of King was displayed, said. “I do want you to understand that I love this man. I love Martin Luther King (Jr.).”

Deas told the gathering that he was born in South Carolina, and his mother was probably the biggest influence in his life, loving him and teaching him from an early age to iron his clothes and wash the dishes. She also made sure he knew what was happening in the world and always told him that he would go to college.

His family lived in Arkansas until he was 10. He recalled when he was little, his young, extended family members took him to the movies where people of color had to sit in the balcony. As a prank, they pushed Deas onto the main floor where a ticket-taker took him by the shirttail and relegated him to the balcony.

“I remember just feeling really humiliated by the whole thing,” he said.

His cousins were members of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, and one of them was legal counsel to the organization. That cousin worked with King on many projects, one of which was the Poor People’s Alliance, now known as the Poor People’s Campaign. Elizabeth Leonard, a member of the Campaign, stood Monday to show its presence in the room.

“It’s a good thing,” Deas said. “It’s a good time to bring it all together to show others what we stand for and what we’re about. The Poor People’s Campaign is here and active due to the work of Martin Luther King.”

Deas, now 71, recalled his family moved to Gorham, Maine, when he was of high school age, as his father was to report to Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth. The family sat in the triangle in front of University of Southern Maine while his father went to various places looking for a home to rent in Portland, but with no success. If his father called landlords on the telephone, he got a more positive response, but when he went to the home and the landlord saw a family of color, he or she would say they didn’t know there were kids, or tell them the place already had been rented, according to Deas.

“This was pre-equal housing, before the law was passed. Martin Luther King was helpful in getting that passed,” he said.

They finally found a place in Gorham, he recalled, and Deas enrolled in the high school where everyone was white. It was not an awful place, but he wanted to go to Portland where there were more people of color, he said.

Amalie Hahn, 13, of Fairfield, and Waterville Rotary Club President Peter Garrett play “Let There be Peace on Earth” on violin with David Deas on guitar. The audience sang with the trio Monday at the 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast at Spectrum Generations Muskie Center in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

He talked to a guidance counselor who told him he could go to Portland and that Gorham was once a stronghold for the Ku Klux Klan and the Klan was there because of the French Catholics who lived there. The guidance counselor also was a French Catholic, Deas said.

“He said, ‘You have as much right to be here as anyone else — I wish you’d stay.’ I did. I graduated in 1966 and I had a wonderful, wonderful experience while I was there.”

At Monday’s event, fourth graders from Albert S. Hall School stood in a line and read aloud their dreams for the world.

“People will be kind to each other and stop fighting, no children will go without food, all homeless people will find a family,” said Reid Morrison.

Besides Morrison, the grandson of Waterville Schools Superintendent Eric Haley, who was present Monday, other children who spoke were Elias Karter, Marissa Gladstone, Takiyah Humphrey, Milo Taylor, Thresia Reddy and Madeline Andreozzi. Their advisor is Edie Keller who said the children had practiced reciting their “dreams” since last year, when the King breakfast was canceled due to bad weather.

Deas and his musical group, “Dave Deas & Friends,” performed, with Deas on acoustic guitar, Eric Thomas on saxophone, Bill Dolan on bass and Rick Dostie on keyboard.

Rotary President Peter Garrett, who emceed the event, and Amalie Hahn, 13, of Fairfield, played violin along with Deas on guitar as everyone sang “Let There be Peace on Earth.”

The Tourmaline Singers, a group that sings for hospice patients, led by Harry Vayo, also performed. The Rev. James Doran of the St. Joseph Antiochene Syriac Maronite Catholic Church gave the invocation, and the Rev. Sungmin Jeon of the Oakland-Sidney United Methodist Church gave the benediction.

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