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Needhamites celebrate MLK’s legacy

By Julia Beauregard
Hometown Weekly Correspondent

Needham locals gathered recently together in the high school auditorium to celebrate the legacy
of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, January 16.

The two hour program was hosted by the Needham Diversity Initiative. Other sponsors included
Needham Human Rights Committee, Needham Public Schools and METCO Program, Interfaith
Clergy Association, and World of Wellesley. This event was designed to be inclusive for all,
even providing ASL interpreters alongside all of the speakers.

The day began with NDI members playing a slide show of photos and quotes from Dr. King,
setting the tone for the event. Clergy Association members ascended the stage after the slide
show, where Rev. Ryan Marshall, the association’s president, introduced fellow members and
discussed MLK’s relationship with God.

Keynote speaker Michael O’Neal came to the stage next, giving a speech that touched the
hearts of every audience member. “This is probably the hardest speech I’ve ever had to give,”
he told the crowd, “because of what Martin Luther King represents to me and understanding my
personal duty to uphold Dr. King’s Legacy.”

O’Neal believes Dr. King’s legacy is to take care of our future: the youth.

He spoke directly to the children in the crowd and said to them: “I see you, I hear you, and I
have no judgments of you. If you ever need me, I’ve got you. I will stand up for you and I will
make sure you learn how to do the right thing because the future lies in your hands.”

The keynote speaker was in attendance, at only four years old, at Dr. King’s famous “I Have A
Dream” speech. He told the crowd that: “the love, the cohesiveness, and the heat of Washington
in August was palpable. But the energy came through to me, even as a child.” The experience
fostered his drive to help his community and the world in any way that he could, and it was clear
that his mission was to pass this same desire to his audience members — specifically the
children in attendance.

“You have to figure out who you are; Dr. King helped me figure that out,” he shared with
everyone. He wanted to pass the message along that when people know who they are, no one
can do anything to them because the things that we all look for outside of ourselves are already
within us.

O’Neal asked for all of the women and girls in the crowd to stand up, as he shared that Dr. King
wanted all men and boys to understand and uplift the women in their lives, as he stated that “we
cannot progress as a society without women.” He told the female members of the crowd that:
“As a man, I want you to know I see you and I hear you. You have worth, and you have always
been worthy of love, reverence, respect, and understanding.”

The keynote speaker informed all in attendance that he had a speech written, but decided to
speak from his heart instead. He concluded simply and profoundly: “In this life, you are going to
have to choose between love and hate. I can’t tell you what to choose, but I am always going to
choose love.”

The event included other performances and speakers, such as a dramatization of the
Montgomery bus boycott by The Eliot School Chorus; a song performed by the Plugged In Teen
Band Program; songs performed by the Interfaith Coalition Singers; a reading of segments from
Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”; the “Rose Petals” song and ceremony; and an
invitation to contribute to the MLK Scholarship fund.

For more information about the NDI, visit

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