Choose to love and forgive, says MLK Jr. event speaker

Portsmouth Middle School girl offers ‘nonviolence pledge’

By Jim McGaw
Posted 1/18/21

NEWPORT COUNTY — On Jan. 6, hundreds of insurgents — many displaying telltale symbols typically worn by white supremacists, white nationalists and other extremist groups — …

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Choose to love and forgive, says MLK Jr. event speaker

Portsmouth Middle School girl offers ‘nonviolence pledge’

Posted

NEWPORT COUNTY — On Jan. 6, hundreds of insurgents — many displaying telltale symbols typically worn by white supremacists, white nationalists and other extremist groups — stormed the U.S. Capitol in a violent yet failed bid to overturn the results of a presidential election. 

Twelve days later, during a virtual ceremony honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., one speaker reminded all to heed the words of the late civil rights leader: Choose to love all, including your enemies.

Ten years before he was assassinated, Mr. King was stabbed by a woman with a letter-opener during a book-signing event in Harlem. 

“He chose to love. He chose to forgive her for what she did,” said Command Senior Chief Jerome Nurse of the Naval Academy Preparatory School, the guest speaker Monday at the 36th annual National Holiday Celebration in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The virtual program, held via the Zoom platform, was presented by the Newport County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), in collaboration with the Newport Middle Passage Port Marker, R.I. Slave History Medallion, Sankofa Community Connection, and Salve Regina University.

Life is all about choices, said Chief Nurse, and Mr. King chose to face his adversaries even though it made his life more challenging.

“It’s important to know we can learn something from everyone we meet. That’s one step in making a better choice,” he said.

At the same time, it’s also important to not be passive in standing up for your convictions, he said. He quoted the Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Like MLK, Chief Nurse said his own life has also been a story of overcoming adversity. Growing up in northern New Jersey, opportunities were few, he said. “I realized I had a choice, though,” he said.

He joined the military, and while he met many fine people, not everyone supported him or his background, he said.

“I believed the way ahead was to love those who didn’t love me. If we choose to love first … I believe that is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Pointing to the most recent examples of social unrest, he said it’s important to “choose to love our enemies and ourselves to do the right thing.”

He ended his speech by quoting MLK, who paraphrased the Gospels when he said, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” 

Students speak

The program included remarks from two local students, the first being Amiyah Johnson of Portsmouth Middle School. 

“I pledge to make nonviolence a way of life in my dealings with all people. I will reject all forms of prejudice, bigotry and hatefulness,” Amiyah said as part of her “nonviolence pledge.”

Talia Cicilline, an 8th-grader at Thompson Middle School in Newport, read an original essay about MLK. If he were still alive, the civil rights leader would probably “be very sad, maybe even mad,” about the social injustices and unrest still being experienced today.

“We have so much to learn from one another, if we take the time to listen,” said Talia, who ended her speech with another MLK quote: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”  

The program featured two a cappella performances from gospel singer Kenneth Johnson, who sang “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Keep Your Eyes On The Prize (Hold On)” from his car.

“We have to keep our eyes on the prize,” said Victoria Johnson, an NAACP member who led the program. “It’s the only way we’re going to achieve liberty and justice for all.”

Visit www.salve.edu/mlk-week for more information.

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