January 13, 2009


Get involved with MLK Jr. ideas


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Tim Rodriguez has organized a Martin Luther King Day event scheduled for Monday. Rodriguez hopes the public will come out to help honor Dr. King’s teachings of communty service and civic duty.

Living and Leisure Editor

YWCA director Amy Simrell said Martin Luther King Jr. Day is about all of us.
“I think the rationale is that none of us are really secure — until all of us are secure. And we need to share the opportunity, share the American Dream. So the YWCA has figured that out a long time ago. If somebody, anybody, or a group is at the bottom of the heap ... we could all suffer. That’s why we think Dr. Martin Luther King day is important.”
Every year, the YWCA hosts a soup and bread luncheon with a speaker to celebrate the day. This year, it is joining Tim Rodriguez’s efforts at the SUNY Cortland Institute for Civic Engagement and the Cortland Downtown Partnership to offer a full day of special events. “I started thinking about what to do for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and I came up with a whole round table discussion with groups in the community that are fighting on issues and rights,” said Rodriguez, Main Street Community Outreach coordinator for the Downtown Partnership and Institute of Civic Engagement at SUNY Cortland. “And then I found out Amy at the YWCA was holding an event on her own with a speaker and lunch. We combined forces. I (also) came up with a service portion. The YWCA is hosting lunch, speaker and performer portion.”
The event is called the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Education and Service, and it will take place Jan. 19. It is open to all. The program will kick off 9 to 11 a.m. at the Beard Building, 9 Main St., Cortland, with a roundtable discussion. Rodriguez wanted to focus on groups in the community which are working to achieve King’s dreams of human rights, social justice and peace. The following groups will take part:

  • Cortland Community for Peace
  • New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG);
  • Students for a Democratic Society
  • Center for Gender and Intercultural Studies at SUNY Cortland
  • Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center
  • Cortland Community for Peace.

Rodriguez said the morning portion will be informal, where group members will speak about the issues they are working on. Participants will be able to ask questions or discuss issues. “It’s up to the particular group to decide how they want to do that. I think it will be a great time for networking between the groups and the community and hopefully people can become active in these groups.”
Then, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., a free soup and bread luncheon will be held at the YWCA, 9 Clayton Ave. The noon lunch, which is free and open to all, will feature eight to ten homemade soups. A performance by “Mr. Oscar Davis” will precede the lunch and he will also talk about the King era. “Mr. Oscar” works at the Beard Building and SUNY Cortland as a custodian, Rodriguez said. Besides driving a bus for the Cortland School District in the past, he worked as a musician performing soul music. He recently came out with a CD, which featured the song, “There’s a Brother in the White House.” He’ll do story telling and reminisce about the Civil Rights Movement.
Then Seth Asumah, a professor of political science at SUNY Cortland, will talk about the presidential election in light of King’s vision of the country. At 1 p.m., the day will culminate with a service portion, when 22 volunteers will be able to work on three community projects at Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture, Habitat for Humantiy or Loaves and Fishes.
“Part of our mission is working to eliminate racism, and that’s been with the YW formally since 1970,” said Simrell. She noted how in 1946, the YWCA created a department of Racial Justice within the national organization, and appointed the first African American director to that department. That was rare, she noted, to have an African American person in that high level part of the organization. And YWCA lunch counters and dining rooms, which were more common back then, were integrated in the 1940s, way before the Civil Rights era.
Rodriguez noted how not only was King a leader figure in the Civil Rights movement, but the organizations working at that time were also pivotal in highlighting the need for change for black Americans. Many, like the Student Non-violence Coordinating Community (SNCC), were working diligently doing the work of the Civil Rights Movement. Today, Rodriguez points to Students for a Democratic Society as working on what King was concerned with, the basic economic and political structures that were root causes for the problems in society. And Cortland Community for Peace is another group that espouses one of King’s causes.
“So Martin Luther King just didn’t stand for the Civil Rights Movement but broader ideas of a more free and just society,” Rodriguez said.


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