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West Hartford to Hold In-Person Celebration of Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington, DC. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The Town of West Hartford will hold its annual Martin Luther King Day celebration on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023 at Town Hall.


The community is invited to the 27th annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, which will return to an in-person format and will be held at the West Hartford Town Hall auditorium, 50 South Main Street, from 10-11:30 a.m.

Each year the event that pays tribute to Dr. King’s ideals and vision grows more popular and inspiring. The celebration is free and open to people of all ages.

West Hartford’s 2023 event centers on public service and Dr. King’s speech at the 1959 youth march in Washington, D.C.  Dr. King said: “[Being an advocate for equal rights] will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher. It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man. Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater Nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” [The complete speech is found here:https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/address-youth-march-integrated-schools-18-april-1959]

This year’s keynote speaker is Vannessa Dorantes, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF), an advocate for human rights and a public servant. Dorantes was appointed to lead DCF in 2019 – the first African American to serve in that role for the State of Connecticut. She has dedicated her service to the agency since 1992.

DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes. Courtesy photo

As DCF commissioner, she oversees a staff of 3,200 across two children’s psychiatric facilities, 14 regional offices, Central Office Divisions and an adventure-based, clinically- supported wilderness school. She co-chairs Connecticut’s Alcohol & Drug Policy Council, the Governor’s Council on Women & Girls, and is an appointed member of Connecticut’s newly-formed Racial Equity and Public Health Commission.

In March 2021, Dorantes had the distinct privilege of participating in a roundtable discussion on the rippling impacts of child poverty with Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris, United States Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Gov. Ned Lamont, and U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.

In January 2022, Dorantes was elected to the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) Executive Governing Board. She also participated in the United States Department of Health and Human Services roundtable discussion to contribute insights on potential reforms of child welfare, including how it interacts with the Medicaid program.

Dorantes frequently speaks on a national level regarding DCF’s racial justice work, performance management and continuous quality improvement, which all continue to evolve under her administration. This is evidenced by Connecticut’s successful exit from the three decades long Juan F. Consent Decree earlier in the year.

From 2004 until her appointment as Commissioner, she was an adjunct faculty member at Central Connecticut State University where she taught elective and core competency social work courses. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Teikyo Post University and a MSW from UConn School of Social Work.

In October 2021, she received the NAACP award for the 2021 Class of Connecticut’s Most Influential Black Leaders.

The 2023 MLK celebration also includes a welcome from Mayor Shari Cantor and a prayer by Rev. Fredd Ward, associate minister of First Church of Christ Congregational, West Hartford. Dr. Lorna Thomas-Farquharson, chair, West Hartford Board of Education, will serve as master of ceremonies.

State Rep. Tammy Exum of the West Hartford African American Social & Cultural Organization, one of the sponsoring organizations, will provide the introduction of the keynote speaker.

Conard student Afaf Albur. Courtesy photo

Each year two students from the public high schools are selected to give student perspectives on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year, Afaf Albur, Conard High School and Zella Jackson, Hall High School, were selected.

Hall student Zella Jackson. Courtesy photo

The event features musical performances by the Conard High School Jazz Combo, King Philip Middle School Singers and Hall High School’s Choraliers.

Student artwork, essays and poems from West Hartford elementary schools will also be on display.

Sponsors of this event include the West Hartford African American Social & Cultural Organization (WHAASCO), Town of West Hartford, West Hartford Public Schools, Witness Stones West Hartford, and Concerned Parents of Color of West Hartford. West Hartford Community Interactive will air the event live on Comcast Channel 5, Frontier 6098 and on their YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/@whci.

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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