Less than a week after protesters blocked traffic on I-93 in the name of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, Simmons professor Daren Graves discussed the current fight for equality at Randolph’s ninth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Monday.Graves told more than 300 people at Lombardo’s that in King’s day, the means to reach equality and the most important issues were not always clear to those in the movement.“A lot of the work was not popular,” Graves said. “Not everyone was cheering and glorifying them as they were doing this work.”Now, as activists tackle problems of police brutality, degradation of voting rights, educational equality and the prison system, the same questions are being raised.“I don’t have the answer yet,” Graves, an associate professor of education at Simmons, said. “We’re early in this.”Like the movements of the past, Graves said the youth must take the lead in seeking change.“We need to equip students with how to answer these questions,” said Graves, explaining that young people can achieve impressive and surprising things if the adults in their lives don’t stifle them.David Brown, the principal at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, who MC’d the event, agreed with Graves’ premise.“If we raise our level of expectation, they will meet it,” he said.Graves, Ed.D., who was educated at Harvard and Yale, has worked with young people in various capacities his entire career.In his introduction of Graves, Brown called the speaker a “frontline fighter for social justice in education.”Graves centered his remarks on the poem, “To Be of Use,” by Marge Piercy. The poem highlighted the importance of a community and hard work.Graves applauded activists who are already challenging the status quo.“These people are out here doing the work every day,” Graves said. “That gives me hope.”Graves’ keynote address was just part of the Monday morning celebration of diversity and the life of Martin Luther King Jr.Music from Randolph High students, Lady Rae from Motivation Church, and the Art of Black Dance and Music got the attendees moving.The MLK Celebration committee also handed out four awards to Randolph residents and youth leaders.Emmanuel Mecha was nominated for the Voice of the People Award by an African immigrant from Randolph and fellow school committee member Ida Gordon. Mecha also was praised for uniting the African and American cultures in the town’s annual Fourth of July celebration.
Maysa Whyte was nominated by her music teacher and Eric Laprade, who led the Randolph school music program, for the Voice of Youth Award.Paul Fernandes was nominated for the Social Justice Award and praised by the nominating team for his service on the town council and role as a catalyst for social change in Randolph. Fernandes has been the chairman of the Randolph Finance Committee, Milton Hospital Foundation Board of Directors, Democratic Town Committee member since 1988, School Strategic Planning Committee, Randolph Community Partnership Board of Directors, Town Meeting member since 1994 and the Randolph Unity Network.The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. at Dr. Betty Shabazz Delta Academy was nominated for the Spirit of Youth Award. A probation officer nominated the sorority for its work with youth in the community, dedication to young girls and emphasis on leadership and service.The event was formerly organized by the No Place for Hate group in Randolph. The group has folded in several towns, but volunteers still put on the ninth annual breakfast and plan to form a diversity committee that will address local issues and host the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration.The event was coordinated by Kit Hoffmann and Williams as well as members of the now-defunct Randolph Unity Network, and this year included Katrina Huff-Larmond, Vernell Fisher, Mary Barrett, Jeannette Travaline, and Meaghan Thompson.“It is extremely important for this to happen,” Huff-Larmond said of the event. “This is what Martin Luther King stood for.”