King Day speaker sees key to justice

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FARMINGTON – Mainers need to start thinking of accessible higher education as a social justice issue, Rev. Doug Dunlap said during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on Monday.

About a dozen people braved snow to attend the ecumenical service held at Henderson Memorial Baptist Church. During the service, local Don Nicolson read excerpts from King’s letter from the Birmingham, Ala., jail to a hushed audience and the congregation sang hymns like “There is a Balm in Gilead” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Then Dunlap, of the First Congregational Church in Farmington, stood to make his case.

One of the ways white slave owners and, later, proponents of the Jim Crow laws worked to heighten the inequality between the races in America was to prohibit or prevent blacks from being educated, he said.

Education – in the form of creating black colleges in the 1830s and desegregating schools in the 1950s and 1960s – has long been seen as a key to empowering the disenfranchised.

In rural Maine in 2007, the disenfranchised come in all colors.

“Martin wrote often about the need for the nation to address the suffering of all those in America,” he said. “Now to Franklin County. We have lost thousands of jobs in this county over the past dozen years or so, as the economy has shifted.

“The economic future lies in new forms of employment that require specific education that historically has not been available here,” he said.

For a long time, Franklin County was at the bottom in Maine in terms of access to community college courses. People from around the county, including large employers, school districts and aid organizations, have turned the situation around, he said. Now, there are five sites around the county where people can take courses.

“I have been asked to tell you about all this today because this kind of change in thinking, which is really social change … is what Brother Martin’s legacy is,” he said.

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