In today’s world, the loudest voices often preach a message of divisiveness and look to create an environment that excludes rather than accepts. This message runs contrary to the one preached by Martin Luther King Jr. and
The invitation extended to community members was made in those words for an event titled We Thirst for Justice at the Bates House in Setauket Jan. 16 — the designated commemoration of the birth of the civil rights leader.
The event was organized by Michael Huffner, co-founder of the Community Growth Center with locations in Smithtown and Port Jefferson Station, in partnership with the All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook. A newly formed service organization, The Spot — a new service group that provides resources, community and mentoring— and artist Alex Seel of the Center for Community Awareness facilitated a collaborative art project for the multifaith gathering. Each person was invited to record his/her vision of justice on a small square of colored paper. Seel, assisted by Vanessa Upegui worked to merge the squares into a colorful mosaic.
Huffner said he hoped the celebration would inspire people to work collaboratively for justice.
Vanessa Upegui and Alex Seel pause to display their art project. Photo by Donna Newman
“What seems like a small piece of paper can become a beautiful work of art when combined with others,” he said at the event. “What seems like a small voice becomes a sound capable of changing the world when combined with others … Dr. King’s message is simple. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. We must be the light; we must be the love that Dr. King spoke about.”
The Rev. Farrell Graves, spiritual leader of the All Souls Church, an associate chaplain at Stony Brook University and a founder of The Spot, added his take on the day’s significance.
“This is the joyful part of our work,” he said at the event. “We also have some more difficult work — to stand up for the common good. Freedom is for everyone, or it’s for no one. The cost of our freedom is constant vigilance, and by that I mean awareness, and I include in that self-awareness … If we don’t have the courage to look ourselves in the face, then fear and scapegoating take over. We start blaming others for our inadequacies … This is not yet the world that Martin Luther King envisioned. If we want to change the world, we must have the courage to change ourselves.”
Seel stressed the importance of the fact that the civil rights movement of the ’60s was a collaborative effort and that such an endeavor is needed again to further the cause of justice in our country in our time.
“What we need now is leadership,” he said. “We need leaders who will bring different faith communities together. There needs to be a call to engage in a clear and effective goal.”
The event included live music and a diversity of foods. More than 65 people attended and, while the host organizations encouraged mixing and mingling, when approached, most people admitted they were sitting with people they already knew.