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Making King's dream come alive ; Event celebrating his legacy is tempered by speakers' concern that more must be done

Where do we go from here?

That was the question on the minds of the standing-room-only crowd that filled Kleinhans Music Hall on Sunday night to celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"We are here to pay tribute to the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.," Bessie Patterson, chairwoman of the event, said. "In song and dance and spoken word on the stage tonight, you will see Dr. King's dream come alive."

While much of the evening was devoted to celebrating King's dream and the gains that have been made, concern also was raised about what still needs to be done.

"It's a bittersweet day," said the Rev. Darius Pridgen, the keynote speaker for the event.

Pridgen acknowledged much has been accomplished, citing the country's first African-American president, the first African-American governor of New York State and Buffalo's first African-American mayor, but he said there was still much to be done.

"Yet still we lack a black agenda," he said. "It's a concern to me, as we celebrate the birth of Dr. King, that we are still waiting on others to define for us what is success. So this is a bittersweet day in which we celebrate our accomplishments, but must be keenly aware of our failures."

Pridgen went on to say that enough is enough.

"We can no longer accept violence and murder as a way of life," he said. "We must as a community come together to bring peace within the bounds of our neighborhoods, state and the world."

Among the many performers Sunday night were the African Cultural Center Dancers; Full Gospel Tabernacle Choir; the Performing Arts Gospel Choir; the Philharmonic Gospel Chorus; Jennifer Suarez; Devoted to Dance Ministry; and national recording artists, the M.D.A. Fellowship Choir of Detroit.

A special guest appearance also was made by Mohamed A. Mohamed, a University at Buffalo graduate and current prime minister of Somalia, who urged the audience to reach out to help his country.

"I have the honor to participate in this historic celebration of our great leader, Martin Luther King Jr.," he said.

"I strongly believe we can lay the foundation of a secure and strong government [in Somalia]," he said. "There is now a real opportunity for us to break the circle of violence." Also in the spirit of King, the committee honored several community members.

They included Florence Baugh, who received the Legacy Award; Robert Baxter, the Education Award; the Rev. and Mrs. Michael Chapman, the Community/Builders Award; Michael A. Rivera, the Community Service Leadership Award; and D. Bruce and Gail Johnstone, the Humanitarian Award.

Also honored were students from public schools with high grade-point averages.

Sunday's event was presented by the Concerned Citizens Following the Dream Committee. Other sponsors included Hispanics United of Buffalo, M&T Bank, Wegmans supermarkets, the Community Action Organization of Erie County, the 1199 SEIU Healthcare Education Project, Westside Community Services, ECMC, the Brian K. Lewis Funeral Home, Upstate New York Transplant Services, National Federation for Just Communities of WNY, the Belle Center, and the Buffalo Teachers Federation.

Other area celebrations included "Dream with a Vision, Live with a Purpose," sponsored by the Niagara Ministerial Council in Trinity baptist Church in Niagara Falls.

A Mass and commemoration of King will be offered at 10:30 a.m. today in SS. Columba & Brigid Church on Eagle and Hickory streets. Bishop Edward U. Kmiec will be the main celebrant, and will be joined by Father Lawrence Lucas from Harlem, who will give the homily.

e-mail: hjones@buffnews.com

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