ASA BURCHSTEAD of Wiscasset, left, and Gabriella Kessler of Portland, both 2, participate in the Martin Luther King Jr. children’s celebration at Bowdoin College on Monday.

ASA BURCHSTEAD of Wiscasset, left, and Gabriella Kessler of Portland, both 2, participate in the Martin Luther King Jr. children’s celebration at Bowdoin College on Monday.

BRUNSWICK

Dozens of young children and family members crowded into Thorne Hall at Bowdoin College to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.

The celebration, for ages 5 and up, was organized by Helen K. Hill and Judy Montgomery of the Bowdoin College Library, and has been an ongoing annual event for more than 10 years.

“We are talking about the civil rights movement and the struggle for equal rights, and to live without violence,” said Montgomery. “It’s important for kids to think about what it means for their lives today.”

Maine may, at times, seem geographically and demographically removed from race issues. However, Montgomery noted that the state is becoming more diverse, especially in areas such as Portland, and so it’s important for children to “think about people who are different from ourselves and who have different backgrounds.”

Civil rights has a complex history in America, but can be simplified for children by sticking to the basics of King’s legacy: Emphasizing kindness, caring and treating people equally, she said.

“It’s a tiny step forward in making a change in the world,” said Montgomery.

It’s fitting that King’s life was celebrated at Bowdoin College. The civil rights leader spoke in front of 1,100 attendees at the First Parish Church in Brunswick at the invitation of the college’s Political Forum student group in May 1964, a year after the famous march on Washington.

The next day King would address another 2,000 at what is now the University of New England in Biddeford.

It is believed to be King’s only visit to Maine.

On Monday, Bowdoin College was also scheduled to hold a concert with Bernice Johnson Reagon and Toshi Reagon to honor King’s legacy.

At the children’s celebration, storyteller Al Miller retold the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff with a twist, substituting the titular goats for a number of colorful Appalachian characters to a rapt audience.

The point of the story, he told his audience, was, “You go over bridges to get to new places.”

“You have to think about the bridges that Dr. Martin Luther King crossed to get to new places,” said Miller.


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