BEACON - Reverend Ronald O’ Perry, Sr. arrived at Springfield Baptist Church at 7 a.m. on Monday; the activities planned there were not set to take place for several hours. Although Perry’s role in the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration was mostly limited to providing the Church setting, his early arrival spoke volumes of what the occasion meant to him.
"I am committed," affirmed an enthused Perry as he spoke to the crowd that filled his Church for the 35th Birthday Celebration of Reverend Dr. King. "I’m very happy to be above ground to witness history and celebrate a man who paved the way for so many."
The festive affair, held by the Southern Dutchess Coalition, Inc., took on an extra special flair. Not only was it uniquely celebrated on the actual day of Mr. King’s nationally celebrated holiday, but it was in conjunction with the second inauguration of President Barrack Obama. In recognition of the latter, a large television screen, situated in the Church, broadcasted the historic inauguration throughout the morning. A steady flow of visitors viewed the spectacle in delight. Soon after, they indulged in a hearty lunch. The popular, annual event, which traces back to 1977 was the brainchild of one of the Coalition’s founders, Barbara E. Baker (greatly aided by Ruth Goins, Jennette Brisco and Gemma Campbell.) Now, 35 years later, her daughters, Barbara Baker-Baylor and Jennifer Baker McClinton, have kept the MLK celebration flame burning bright.
"This is a very unique year for this event, so much history involved with the President having his inauguration as well as it being the actual date of the holiday," said Baker-Baylor. "The turnout has been very good, as people are showing up from all ages." She added, "It’s just so wonderful to be able to carry out our mother’s legacy; this event was one of her biggest ones and closest to her heart."
Each year, the event committee brainstorms themes; this year, the title, "It’s a Family Affair- Family First!" won out. In that spirit, the day-long program featured a special segment devoted to our youth, "The Power Hour." Featuring an assortment of talent from the area’s children, the Hour included singing, dancing and speaking. Eighteen year old actor, Jordan Bratton, who has appeared on Broadway in hit shows such as The Lion King and The Color Purple, sang such inspirational melodies as "Amazing Grace" and "How Great is our God" as he played the keyboards. For Bratton, who is deeply grateful for the opportunities he has been blessed with, the day had great significance.
"Today is a very historical day, great for the history of African-Americans," said Bratton, who was brought to the event by Derek Wilson, a Board Member at Springfield Baptist Church. "Dr. King means a great deal to me; without him, I would not be able to be doing what I am doing. Reflecting further, the Long Island resident Bratton added, "He paved the way for so many to have so much freedom, and he is responsible for so much of how far black people have come today."
A host of local dignitaries were on hand, including present City of Beacon Mayor Randy Casale, along with former Beacon Mayor, Clara Gould. Both spoke about the power of involvement and diversity.
"You have to get involved," stressed Casale. "It’s not about party, but about bettering the community; we need people to make this community more diversified and better."
Also lending words was Reverend Perry. Stressing his commitment to make Springfield Baptist Church available for the imperative MLK Celebration, Perry also spoke of the lasting influence of the man himself who was being celebrated.
"I learned something very true a long time ago," said Reverend Perry. "Sometimes someone has to die, so others can live."