BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Ryan Edwards, 14, was born decades after Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington and delivered his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963. But the teenager said King’s message of non-violent protest to achieve racial equality resonates with members of Gen Z like him.
“He definitely still matters. We’ve come a long way. But a lot of what he was talking about is still going on today,” said Ryan, one of several members of the Young Ambassadors program of the Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns who attended the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Prayer Service on Monday.
The service, which took place at Our Lady of Victory Church, was the Diocese of Brooklyn’s official tribute to the legacy of King (1929-1968) on the national holiday marking his birthday.
The service was organized by the diocese’s Office of Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns, led by Father Alonzo Cox, pastor of St. Martin De Porres Parish.
Father Cox said part of his mission is to reinforce King’s message of non-violence and make it relatable to today’s generation.
“He showed us that peace and love was the way to move forward,” he said. “We live in such divisive times. It’s more important now than ever to spread that message.”
In addition to prayers, the service featured Scripture readings, a reflection delivered by Father John McKenzie, parochial vicar for the National Shrine for the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, Michigan, and hymns, including “We Shall Overcome,” the anthem of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
Father McKenzie has hope that young people can grab the torch from previous generations and carry on King’s fight for justice.
“Dr. King’s dream will live another two generations if we allow our youth, with proper guidance, to take the helm of the ship,” he said.
Ryan Edwards and his twin brother Jonathan both said they are aware of King’s legacy.
“He had a big impact on society,” said Jonathan, who recalled how the lessons he and his brother learned in school about King were reinforced by their parents at home.
Ryan’s favorite King quote, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward,” speaks to the need for endurance.
“Dr. King had determination. That’s one of the things I admire about him,” he said.
The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday has evolved over the years into a day of service in which people are encouraged to perform a service for their communities.
In keeping with this tradition, the Young Ambassadors took part in the prayer service — greeting people at the door and handing out programs.
Najwa Waysome, 15, a member of the group, said she thinks schools could be doing a better job of teaching children about King and his work.
“And they need to teach more than just the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” she said. “Dr. King did a lot, but it seems like all they talk about is the speech and him getting killed. There’s more to him.”