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Statewide Events Celebrate MLK Day

Fred Bever
Gov. Paul LePage (right) at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Breakfast in Waterville.

WATERVILLE, Maine — Less than two weeks after Gov. Paul LePage’s comments about drug dealers impregnating white women in Maine sparked national controversy, he was in the audience at a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial breakfast in Waterville Monday.

LePage has attended the annual breakfast for decades. He made no public comments yesterday, and instead listened attentively as a local choir sang “Balm of Gilead.”

The Rev. Effie McAvoy McClain, a pastor at the Oakland-Sidney Methodist United Church and an African-American, says she believes the governor is making serious efforts to address the state’s addiction crisis.

“I don’t know if he was trading on racial stereotypes,” she says. “But I think he was trading on his inability at times to think before he speaks. But the racial stereotype that he was accused of was deeper than what his intent was.”

During her invocation, McAvoy-McClain called for people of all colors and beliefs to unite for justice. And she prayed that the language of divisive politics might be “drowned out by the songs of inclusion.”

Meanwhile, more than 400 people turned out at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland for the 35th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration sponsored by the NAACP’s Portland chapter.

One of the event’s emcees was Mary Kanda, a Portland High School senior of Congolese and Portuguese descent.

“We have come a long way, but the fight is not over,” she says. “There is work to be done. People of color are facing injustices in the economy, education system and the justice system. We are here tonight to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, to acknowledge the global struggle for freedom and to stand for the things that truly matter. And in his own words, ‘our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.’“

Kanda was joined on stage by University of Maine School of Law Dean Danielle Conway, the keynote speaker and first African-American woman to head the school. She told the audience that education for all citizens was the road to a more just future.

“We can only do this honor-seeking and brave and courageous work in our educational institutions,” she says. “These are the safest places, the safest for our young people to investigate themselves, to interrogate the status quo, to bring down walls of ignorance and challenge others with love.”

Many speakers called for unity in a time of heated political rhetoric.

The dinner was thronged by community organizers, students and politicians from around the state, including U.S. Sen. Angus King, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and state Senate President Mike Thibodeau — the first elected Republican ever to speak at the event, according to Portland NAACP president Rachel Talbot Ross.