Dozens of people gathered outside of Norwich City Hall Monday to make sure the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is not forgotten.
“I believe it is just as relevant if not more relevant today,” said Shiela Hayes, President of the NAACP’s Norwich Chapter.
Hayes was joined by members of the NAACP, state and local lawmakers, members of the religious community and students. They stood in the shadow of the freedom bell in the David Ruggles Freedom Courtyard, preaching a message of freedom for all.
“Freedom to be who we are when we want to be,” said Hayes.
The speakers in attendance said it is important that people are not just talking about King’s legacy, but living it.
“As we come out for the celebration of a great man we are also engaging ourselves in his work,” said Rev. Gregory Perry.
Hayes said she remembers watching King speak on television from her living room when she was very young.
“As a family we were focused on it and it became part of our daily conversation. Why would somebody hate?” said Hayes.
Hayes said she still finds herself asking that question. Even though, she said, the community and country has seen a lot of progress, Hayes said they are still fighting for similar things.
“Education, better housing, better healthcare,” said Hayes. “You stop and think those fights, we are still having them today. The fight continues today.”
The Norwich Chapter of the NAACP is calling on their youth council to help make sure that fight is strong.
“You cannot let his message skip a generation,” said Hayes.
While the young students in attendance did not experience King like Hayes did growing up, they say his impact is not lost on them.
“If it were not for his work, I would not be able to attend the schools that I have been to and be a part of this community like I have been,” said Karen Lau, a student at Norwich Free Academy.
As the city continues to tackle equity issues, the young people said they are ready to join the fight and follow in King’s footsteps.
“They have to embrace it. They have to empower it,” said Hayes. “They have to know that they are a part of his legacy. His legacy is not just words.”