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Mayor Kahn's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Comments

January 15, 2024

I had the honor to introduce Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries at our Keene MLK Jr. Day recognition events. His work emphasizes rehabilitation and reentry for those living at the margins of the Los Angelos area. His message is to plant yourself at the margins because it’s the only way to erase them and for people living at the margins to become one of us.

On this day, 95 years ago, Martin Luther King was born and he died at the age of 39 on April 4, 1968.  In that short time his impact was immense.  His message for racial equity and justice went beyond it’s impact on black people in the US.  It had a global reach which is why he received the Nobel Peace Prize.  His message applied to all people who witnessed and experienced inequity and injustice.  As a person whose parents fled Nazi Germany, MLK was a voice for justice and equity in my country and I needed that hope and promise.

In 1999, I felt the joy of New Hampshire becoming the last state in the country to embrace Martin Luther King’s birthday as a state holiday.

I won’t deny that racial inequity and injustice exists today.  But because of King’s efforts, and that of many others including Keene’s martyred freedom rider, Jonathon Daniels, I believe progress has been made.  We must nonetheless keep race as a form of inequity in our present consciousness, least we slip back to where we were not that long ago during my generation. 

King’s message went beyond achieving racial equity and justice. It included economic equity and justice.  In the months before his death, King announced the Poor People’s Campaign on November 29, 1967.  Seeking a “middle ground between riots on the one hand and timid requests for justice on the other, King planned for an initial group of 2,000 poor people to descend on Washington, D.C., southern states and northern cities to meet with government officials to demand jobs, unemployment insurance, a fair minimum wage, and education for poor adults and children, designed to improve their self-image and self-esteem.”

“After King’s assassination in April 1968, SCLC decided to go on with the campaign.  On Mother’s Day, May 12, 1968, thousands of women, led by Coretta Scott King, formed the first wave of demonstrators. The following day, Resurrection City, a temporary settlement of tents and shacks, was built on the Mall in Washington, D.C.  For the following 6 weeks, demonstrators made visits to federal agencies to protest and demand economic justice.”

Today, as we recognize the work of MLK, it is economic inequity and injustice that I believe is the most serious issue we face.  Intergenerational poverty undermines hope, motivation and achievement.   Economic inequity shows up in financial insecurity, educational disparities, workforce participation rates, adaptability to change and self-determination of life-time goals.  There is a lot of work ahead of us to minimize the impacts of economic inequity. 

National policies guide the extent to which people can expect minimum income guarantees, educational access, healthcare coverage.  But it’s communities that are the builders of supports that secure opportunity. 

In Keene we have many among us that are builders of opportunity.  Here we work together to get big things done. Housing those in need of shelter at 100 Nights Shelter and the UCC.  Feeding those who face hunger and food security at the Community Kitchen, Feeding Tiny Tummies, Meals on Wheels and the Keene Senior Center.  KSC providing the Granite Guarantee, financial aid for no cost tuition towards a college education for all New Hampshire students who are Pell eligible and enrolling at KSC for the first time.  The KHKC assure children from low-income families have access to after-school and summer enrichment programs.  The Keene Housing Authority and Southwestern Community Services provide low-income families affordable rental housing opportunities.  Health, dental and mental healthcare services are provided to those who can’t afford the cost of health insurance.  We honor our civil rights heroes, like the Jonathon Daniels documentary films by Richard and Sandra Wallace and by Larry Benaquist.

Today is a day for us to recommit to the values of equity and justice and to build a better community here in Keene and in NH and to model what we can achieve as a nation.

Father Boyle, today it is an honor to welcome you to our Greater Keene community.  I’m not quite comfortable referring to you as G-dog, Father Greg.  But I am glad you are here in Keene today to witness our community and to impart ideas on how we can achieve more equitable and just outcomes through our work together.