Hundreds of the people gathered in the auditorium of the MassMutual to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and his ideals to fight against racial injustice on Jan. 15 in downtown Springfield.
Young musicians from the Community Music School of Springfield performed orchestral and jazz music; there were interpretive dancers from the Dramatic Reaching Everyone’s Artistic Mentality, and gospel music performed by the Springfield Community Chorale.
Despite the celebratory atmosphere, some speakers didn’t shy away from condemning President Donald Trump’s closed-doors comment, calling Haiti and African countries “shithole countries,” which Trump is alleged to have said on Jan. 11.
Waleska Lugo DeJesus, director of the Healing Racism Institute, a Springfield-based grassroots organization dedicated to eliminating racism in the Pioneer Valley, said there’s a climate of fear and hate that’s grown since Donald Trump was elected.
“This year, we can’t turn on the TV without President [Trump] saying racist comments,” she said. “We have a responsibility to lift our voices and act against intolerance and hate.”
Congressman Richard Neal didn’t mention Trump’s name or the word “shithole” in his speech, but spoke about “why it’s important to choose our words carefully.”
“We should use our words to uplift the aspirations of the American people, not to divide America with the use of incendiary rhetoric,” he said.
Gov. Charlie Baker said he thinks multiculturalism is a part of what makes the United States great.
The Valley Advocate spoke with Mayor Domenic Sarno after the event and asked him about Trump’s comment in light of Martin Luther King Day.
“Anyone in leadership positions — you have to be able to be respectful and dignified,” he said. “When those types of comments are made, it sends a terrible message about respecting others.”
Those who attended the Martin Luther King Day event also shared their thoughts about Trump’s comment just a few days before the holiday in recognition of legendary the civil rights leader.
Skip Miller, a volunteer member of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield and a decades-long resident of Springfield, said he thinks Trump’s remark was “straight up ignorance.”
“It shows a lot about his character — of what he’s about,” Miller said. “Usually when you say things it’s a part of who you are.”
LaToya Charles, who attended the MLK Day event, said she thinks everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but everyone should be mindful of what they say and do.
“Being that you are the president, everything you say is under a microscope and I just feel like he’s a dumbass … You have to be mindful of what you’re saying and understand where people are coming from – why they’re upset with you,” she said. “I just can’t believe he said that.”
Springfield City Councilor Marcus Williams called Trump’s comment “racist rhetoric.”
Springfield City Councilor Adam Gomez told the Valley Advocate he thought Trump was “distasteful” for making the comment just days before a holiday that celebrates unity.
“I feel like that he did not just disrespect himself; he disrespected our nation,” Gomez said.
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.