Left to right, Mohamed Nur, Fatma Adnad and Rachel Talbot Ross at today's MLK Breakfast in Portland.
The NAACP is renewing its spirit, says Maine state director and Portland chapter President Rachel Talbot Ross. Over the past year, the organization has worked with youth to study the nation's founding documents. And Ross says the whole idea is to move phrases like "We the People" out of nostalgia and into the present.
"And really trying to get them to understand they are the 'We' in the people. We need to reclaim that. We need to live it, believe it, encourage others to know it and use that as our rallying cry for justice," Ross says.
In that spirit, the breakfast opened with high school students like Sahara Hassan sharing their thoughts about how they interpret the guiding principles contained in those founding documents.
"Though our forefathers said, 'With liberty and justice for all,' they meant liberty and justice for themselves - or, white, land-owning men," she said.
Hassan came to the U.S. five years ago from Kenya, and she says Martin Luther King is her hero. Without his work on racial equality, she doesn't think she'd be in the U.S. today, where, she says, she has freedom and opportunity.
"This is where my future lies," she says. "I'm safe here, and my family's safe, and that's the most important thing to me."
Hassan and other high schoolers shared the stage at the breakfast with local politicians and social leaders, who spoke about a range of issues, from gun control - since Dr. King himself was a victim of gun violence - to support for local boys' and girls' clubs.
But the over-arching theme of the morning was about peace, love, and tolerance. Mohamed Nur was one of two high schoolers who served as master of ceremonies.
"My family's from Somalia, a place where the beloved community is struggling to exist, where love and trust once dominated the land, now fear and hatred overshadows it," Nur said. "I share Dr. King's dream for a beloved community, and hopefully in the future, I can re-establish his dream back into my home."
While some high schoolers connected Martin Luther King to issues with their home countries, Sahra Hassan, originally from Somalia, says King has helped her with challenges she faces in the U.S. She remembers being bullied in elementary school about her religion and culture.
"If someone said that to me, I'd, like, say it back to them, I'd be mean to them," she says. "But because of him, in middle school, I decided they were just saying that to make me mad and to annoy me."
Now, she says, she just brushes it off. Despite the inspiration and change affected by Martin Luther King, NAACP state director Rachel Talbot Ross says there's still a lot of work to do. This year, she says, the Maine NAACP will focus on closing racial and ethnic achievement gaps in education, as well as access to heath care.
Photo by Patty Wight.