PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – More than 500 people flowed into the Peekskill Middle School auditorium Monday afternoon to attend the 29th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Interfaith Worship Service.
“Today we reflect on the legacy of the life of a great man,” keynote speaker Zead Ramadan of the Hudson Valley Islamic Community Center said of King. “Some argue that he is one of the greatest ever produced by this country. No one can doubt that he is one of the most respected and honored and emulated persons because he was such a great man.”
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was the same day President Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president, was inaugurated for his second term.
“Today, we cannot avoid saying a word about another black man, who lived the dream that Dr. King had and who helped us believe in dreams," Ramadan said. "His name is President Barack Hussein Obama.”
Then, speaking in Arabic, Ramadan delivered a common Islamic greeting “with a word you will recognize.” The word was barack. He translated, “May the peace of God and his mercy and blessing be with you. In Arabic, barack means blessing. In the Hebrew tradition, the word is baruch.”
Addressing the youngsters in the audience, Ramadan reminded them that in the spirit of King, “in the face of difficulty, when things may seem insurmountable and you feel you can’t do something, remember that you can do it and you should never ever give up.”
The Rev. Dr. Adolphus Lacey of Mount Olivet Baptist Church, Archbishop Michael Champion representing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Jean Berger from the First Hebrew Congregation of Peekskill and the Rev. Stephany Graham of the Peekskill Presbyterian Church also took part in the Peekskill service.
“Remember that we can be president,” said Lacey, who led the service. “We can be anything we want to be.”
In addition to the readings at the service, sixth-grader Giovanna Toscano read a brief quote from King's writing. High school students Afua Yeboah and Sierra Nelson did a duet of “America the Beautiful;” Minister Tuesday Paige McDonald sang “The Impossible Dream;” and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Choir and Woodside & Hillcrest Chorus performed “I Have a Dream,” “Dr. King’s Melody” and, as a finale, “We Shall Overcome.”
The celebration was sponsored by the 150-year-old Peekskill Area Pastors Association, an interfaith collegium of religious leaders from 90 houses of worship, including Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Unitarian, Jewish and Muslim.