Jaffrey-Rindge King celebration focuses on environmental justice


For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 01-18-2023 2:08 PM

The Park Theatre’s Eppes Auditorium overflowed with a multigenerational crowd on Monday for “Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.,” with livestream to the lounge to accommodate additional audience.

The theme this year, “Justice Everywhere,” from King’s famous exhortation, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” focused attention on environmental justice. Program participants also spanned generations. Owen Houghton, the moderator who has opened and closed the ceremony since its inception in 2015, passed the moderator’s baton to Ella Weinmann, a senior at Conant High School.

Franklin Pierce University junior Andrea Rivera expanded on a passage from King’s 1967 Christmas sermon about the interrelatedness of all beings to draw the connection between the social justice campaign led by King and today’s movement for environmental justice. Taylor Ratcliffe spoke about the 2023 MilliporeSigma-MLK Scholarships.

The nearly 60-member combined Jaffrey and Rindge elementary school choruses performed songs that added joyful enthusiasm to the program.

Keynote speaker Aaron Mair, past president of the 2-million-member Sierra Club and the club’s first African-American president, elaborated on the intersection of environmental health, human health, social justice and climate change. He traced the history of the Club from its founding by John Muir, an advocate for conservation and respecting Native Americans, and Joseph LeConte, a leader in the racially discriminatory eugenics movement, to its current embrace of environmental justice as inextricably linked with its mission to protect nature.

Among other topics, he described his own journey, which started in the 1990s when his daughter developed environmental asthma due to the emissions of a polluting incinerator intentionally placed in the heart of their predominantly Black neighborhood in Albany, N.Y. While the plant delivered energy to nearby white districts, it poisoned the residents of his neighborhood, accounting for a disproportionate prevalence of asthma and other adverse health conditions. The discriminatory placement of polluting infrastructure was, and still is, a pattern across the country.

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Mair was inspired to take up the mantle of environmental justice advocacy and, as a member, board member and ultimately president of the Sierra Club, to influence the club to do the same.

The ceremony ended with the music video premiere of Senie Hunt’s inspiring new song, “Stand Together,” as audience members waved battery-operated candles in time with the music to powerful visual effect. The MLK Exhibit of Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School sixth-grade projects on environmental justice and other displays may be viewed in the theater’s King Auditorium for the remainder of the week.

The program was livestreamed and can be accessed at parkyoutube.com or MLK Celebration Jaffrey-Rindge on Facebook.

Peggy Ueda is chair of  the Jaffrey-Rindge MLK Committee.