LOWELL — If the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been alive today, he would be smiling with pride as Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term as the first black president of the United States, laughing at the irony that a black family was living in the White House, according to Bishop Stanley O. Choate.
King would be proud that Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, said Choate.
“He would find comfort that some of his dreams have come a reality,” said Choate, as he spoke at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast yesterday at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Inn and Conference Center.
King would have been 84 years old yesterday. The event also celebrated the 50th anniversary of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered in August 1963.
But Choate, pastor of New England Pentecostal Ministries in Pelham and the Rev. Roger Sawtell did not agree with holding the inauguration on King’s holiday.
“I’m disappointed. They are two important events, but they shouldn’t be mixed,” said Sawtell, vice president of the Merrimack Valley chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “The president is a political leader and we need to look at the spiritual side when we consider the legacy of King.”
Choate wondered what issues King would tackle if he were still alive — voters’ rights, immigration, the shrinking middle class, gun control or job outsourcing.
Choate he did not want to minimize the work being done, but said there also needs to be prayer.
“Dr. King was not only an activist, first and foremost he was a man of faith. It was a man of faith that started the ball rolling,” he said.
“Prayer will change things. We can’t lay all the blame on education and politics. Some of the blame must also be laid on the footsteps of our churches,” Choate said. “The church has the last say.”
The 2013 theme of the breakfast was “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The Rev. Barnest Patton II, of Third Baptist Church in Lawrence gave the invocation.
“We pray on this day when we honor you by honoring the legacy of one of your servants, Dr. King, that we may continue to be true to you and also true to his legacy. Help us to be champions of righteousness and to stand against injustices,” Patton said.
Joe DeVoe and his daughters Mackenzie, a sophomore at MIT; Morgan, a freshman at Bentley University, and Noelle, a senior at University of Massachusetts Amherst, entertained through music the 150 people who attended the breakfast.
In addition to speakers, Enid Rocha of Lowell received the Samuel S. Crayton Award for Community Service. A moment of silence was held honoring men and women serving in the Armed Forces, especially in Afghanistan.
Among those attending was Rabbi Ira Korinow, spiritual leader of Temple Emanu-El in Haverhill. For the past 20 years, the temple and members of Calvary Baptist have held a joint Martin Luther King service.
Throughout their respective histories Jews and blacks have been subject of prejudice, he said. Rabbis stood side by side with Dr. King at the Selma to Birmingham march and other notable events during the Civil Rights movement.
“The Jewish community has always been a part of in the struggle for equality and change for all people,” Korinow said.
The breakfast ended with the crowd singing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” led by the DeVoes.