There was prayer, there was song, and there was talk of peace -- just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted it.
The town of Hamden held its annual remembrance Friday afternoon for the anniversary of King's birth, and it drew about 75 people, including students who performed songs dedicated to the civil rights leader who was born 84 years ago this week and assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Despite his having been gone for more than four decades, his presence and his message are as relevant today as it was then, Mayor Scott Jackson said.
"We are so fortunate in this country to have heroes -- we have heroes who are in our homes, our mothers fathers, we have heroes in our classrooms, we have heroes who coach our kids in our parks, we have heroes with bullhorns who tell peoples clean up your yards, we have people to look up to every single day," he said, "but we also have a specific set of American heroes who transcended people, people like Martin Luther King, people who force us to look at ourselves as a culture as a society and make changes.
"'People' is a very powerful word in America because it is our foundation, 'we the people,'" he said. "Who are the people? That is a quest we have asked and answered many, many times over our short history, and many, many times when we ask ourselves that question and we answer it from the heart in the way Dr. King answered that question, we become stronger, we become a better nation, we become a more perfect union."
Jackson was joined by students from Hamden Youth Services Pre-school Program, as well as the Shepherd Glen School fifth-grade class, who performed for the crowd.
Hamden High School was represented by senior Charles Bailey, who spoke about the Black and Hispanic Student Union's trips to predominantly black colleges and universities and how that has helped them make decisions about higher education options.
In addition, Hamden High School student Maya Michelle Butler performed "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which is known as the African-American National Anthem.
The keynote speaker was Shepherd Glen School principal Joseph DiBacco, who spoke of how, despite the violence he and his supporters faced, King maintained a philosophy of peace, and how that remains relevant today.
"During Dr. King's march from Selma to Montgomery, on television there were people getting hit and beat, and those protesters were not fighting back," he said. "In the time that we live in, violence is not what we are preaching -- there are places in this world that are ravished by war, ongoing conflicts and violence around us everyday, and he tells us in his own words we must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
"Once again I ask you, not to turn to violence because that is not the answer -- we want you to find that peace, we want you to live that message," he said