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Springfield, Mass. marks the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with festive, dutiful event

At times, an event to honor Martin Luther King Jr., on his birthday, felt like a party though with a strong message: the work of the late civil rights leader needs to be continued.

At the MassMutual Center, in Springfield, the first floor hall was filled with visitors and reenactors, including Rosa Parks, played by Ayanna Crawford.

Health care providers and community organizations were making connections with King's legacy through interactive projects and surveys; music and dance performances were scheduled later in the day.

David Flint brought his two children to the event. He said he's been talking with them about racial inequality for a long time.

"It's important, because they're brown, to understanding their culture and where they came from and the struggles that happened to us," Flint said.

With a little prompting from her dad, eight-year-old Gabriella Flint explained further.

"Why don't you tell her how you feel about how brown people are treated sometimes," Flint urged.

Gabriella responded, "Bad."

"And you think that, what..."he asked.

"It's not fair," she said.

"And everybody should what?," he prompted one more time. "Be treated the same," she replied.

Kaleighia Green and Ucee-Uchenna Nwachukwu were passing out art markers, asking people to write ideas and draw pictures for a community puzzle about MLK's legacy. "Be kind" and "We should share the dream" were among the messages.

"Today's event is about living [MLK's] Dream; that's what we are trying to do with this puzzle," Green said.

Though there's a long way to go before rights are really equal, added Nwachukwu.

"I feel like if we stay in unity with each other and we really see what's happening in front of us, we can truly move forward to true change," Nwachukwu said.

Among the musical performances Monday was a concert from the Community Music School of Springfield, which seventh grader Dayton Danko was involved with. It was the first time being part of a King day event she said, and it was important.

"Not only because I'm the only person from my school doing this. But also because of the fact this may be a one-time opportunity that I may never be able to do again," she said.

It matters that the community comes together and keeps the spirit of MLK alive said Danko's mother Vanessa Butler. She and her husband continue to teacher King's messages and historical actions to their three children.

"If it wasn't for him, Black people wouldn't be able to do a lot of things that they are now able to do on a daily basis. Back in the day things were rough with like the buses and the bathrooms and keeping everybody segregated," Butler said. "It's very important that we realize we are all equal."

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."