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West Hartford to Celebrate Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Virtually

A portrait Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on display at West Hartford's annual celebration on Jan. 19, 2015. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The Town of West Hartford’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration will take place virtually, with a program that will premier on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, from 10-11:30 a.m.

Student artwork on display at West Hartford’s 2020 Martin Luther King Day Celebration. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

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The community is invited to the Town of West Hartford’s 25th annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, from 10-11:30 a.m., for a program that promises to be inspirational. This year’s theme centers around King’s speech “Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community.”

Due to the pandemic, the event will be held virtually on West Hartford Community Interactive on Comcast Ch. 5, Frontier Ch. 6098 and www.whctv.org.

Cori Mackey. Courtesy photo

This year’s keynote speakers are Cori Mackey and AJ Johnson of the Center for Leadership and Justice.

Cori Mackey has two decades of executive leadership experience in urban ministry, social justice work, nonprofit management, and faith-based community organizing. In August 2014, she was appointed executive director of the Center for Leadership and Justice (CLJ).

Mackey’s passions are engaging low-income communities in organizing efforts that bring about quality of life changes, and promoting the intersection of social justice and congregational life so that church is more than just a gathering space on Sundays. She holds a master’s degree in divinity from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH, and is a member of Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford.

AJ Johnson. Courtesy photo

Pastor AJ Johnson is a full-time organizer at CLJ and a pastor at Urban Hope Refuge Church in Hartford’s north end where AJ’s father pastored for 24 years. Johnson has been active in many social justice movements in Hartford, including a key leader in the Fight for 15 Campaign, and is a well-respected community leader. He has a master’s degree in organizational management and leadership and a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and education.

Mayor Shari Cantor. Courtesy photo

The 2021 celebration also includes a welcome from Mayor Shari Cantor, prayer by members of the Connecticut Council for Inter-religious Understanding, and a greeting from the U.S. Capitol by Sen. Richard Blumenthal. Town Historian Tracey Wilson will share information on the Witness Stones Project.

Adrienne Billings-Smith, Esq. will serve as master of ceremonies.

Billings-Smith is a local attorney and flight attendant. She earned her juris doctorate in 2013 and has been practicing law in Connecticut since 2014. She is a former college basketball player, graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2004. She is also the founder and president of Concerned Parents of Color of West Hartford and co-chair of the West Hartford’s Human Rights Commission.

Adrienne Billings-Smith (right), pictured with her wife, Susie Boilings-Smith and their son, Russell, will emcee West Hartford’s 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. Courtesy photo

Each year two students from the town’s public high schools are selected to give student perspectives on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year, Taylor Santana of Conard High School and Megan Rodriguez-Hawkins of Hall High School were chosen.

The event features musical performances by West Hartford Public School students.

“Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” considered the Black National Anthem, will be sung in three parts. The first verse will be performed by Emma Billings of Aiken School. The second verse will be sung by the Hall Choraliers, Conard Solo Choir, and Voices of the World, and the third verse will be a solo by Latanya Farrell, a Hall parent, singer, songwriter, and principal of Stanford Elementary School in Bristol.

Tai Kachwaha Comiso of Conard High School, and Brett Boles, Hall High music teacher, will accompany the singers on piano.

Tai Kachwaha Comiso will also play “Glory” by John Legend to a West Hartford montage.

The 2021 event will end with “We Shall Overcome,” sung by Conard, Hall, Bristow, Sedgwick, and King Philip choirs. Viewers at home are encouraged to sing along.

The West Hartford African American Social & Cultural Organization (WHAASCO), West Hartford Human Rights Commission, the Witness Stones Project, Town of West Hartford, and West Hartford Public Schools are annual sponsors of the event.

West Hartford Community Interactive will air the event at 10 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 18 on Comcast channel 5, Frontier channel 6098, and on whctv.org.

To read Dr. King’s “Where do we go from here? Chaos or Community,” click here.

For more information, contact Renée McCue, public relations specialist, Town of West Hartford at 860-561-7521 or email [email protected].

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