Dr. Oneeka WilliamsDr. Oneeka Williams

Martin Luther King Jr.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Photos by J. Alberto Guzman

A cold coming they had of it, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, but 175 or so frozen souls who made it to Town Hall had their hearts warmed by the 31st annual celebration of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

What provided the spark? Consider these snapshots from Monday, Jan. 21:

-- A longtime activist was honored for her adherence to peace and justice;

-- Rousing music included a full-throated soloist;

-- An accomplished surgeon and writer imagined diagnosing the meaning of King's dreams; and

-- The off-the-cuff mistress of ceremonies proved that confusion leavens an occasion with humor.

Consider each of these personalities in order:

Barbara Boltz

A veteran of anti-Vietnam War protest in the 1960s, she graduated to opposing nuclear war in the 1980s before moving to Arlington in 1992. A member of the Vision 20/20 Diversity Task Group for several years, she was also a member of the Arlington public school superintendent's Diversity Advisory Committee.

She is a founding member of Arlington United for Justice with Peace, where you might have seen at at an antiwar vigil at Mass. Ave. and Mystic. Several years ago, Barbara became a member of the Mystic Valley Branch of the NAACP, where she currently serves on the Executive Committee. 

She expressed her deep appreciation for the award citing her outstanding achievement if reflecting the King's values. When she was first told, she said she "thought it must be something of a mistake."

Paul White, director, Community Chorale; and Lori Dow, vocalist

For many years, White has made Arlington's King event sing, this time with vibrant help from a solo by Dow

White has performed throughout the United States and internationally as a recitalist, with his jazz trio Paul White & Co., and with a host of gifted artists, including the Rev. James Cleveland, Billy Preston and Nina Simone.

A gifted performer and recording artist, Dow got her start in the church. Her soulful style has been compared to many of her inspirations, from Yolanda Adams and Anita Baker to CeCe Winans. In fact, for her solo, Dow drew on "Still I Rise," the poem by Maya Angelou  dedicated to Rosa Parks and recorded by Adams.

For a second year, White led the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Chorale in three selections. One of them, "Father, Forgive" from Duke Ellington's "Sacred Concert," featured soloist Elise Gauthier with narration by Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine.

Dr. Oneeka Williams

A distinguished urological surgeon at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center and assistant clinical professor of urology at Tufts Medical School, she is one of the first black women to graduate with a B.A. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University and was the first black woman to train in urological surgery at the Lahey Clinic.

Raised in Guyana and Barbados, Williams completed her M.D., M.P.H. at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health in 1993 and general surgical training at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1995.

From her literary side, she created a confident girl supersurgeon, Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo, the star of science-based children’s books (for example), as her keynote address dramatized.

In her address, the petite speaker drew large themes. She imagines King as her patient in March 1968, seeking diagnosis of an "illness," dreams he called troubling. What are these dreams? Those he conveyed in his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Have_a_Dream -- that "one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed ...."

Enter the "Dee Dee Dynamo" part of Williams, who see King's dream as a power, not an ill. Indeed, he is afflicted with PJS, Positivity Joy Syndrome.

So is Dr. Williams. It fills her with joyful dreams, which take her far beyond the everyday.

She asked the audience: "And what do you dare to dream?" To cure cancer, to heal our planet, to stop violence against women?

Someone shouted back in response: "Yeah!"

Pearl Morrison

The flavoring for this annual celebration continues to be remarks from Morrison. Her comments about King were expected -- "What an influence!" -- and informative: She said state Rep. Sean Garballey had called to say that he could not be present as he was in Atlanta with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the civil-rights legend who marched with King.

She offered apt background -- that King had delivered 2,500 addresses and was jailed 29 times. Then her humor came through: "I can tell by your silence that you want something else."

Explaining how she paid for a gift bought at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala., she said, referring to her husband, "Thanks to Mr. Morrison for the use of his American Express."

The program did not follow the order published in the program, as she had Bishop Brian Greene, pastor at Pentecostal Tabernacle Church, Cambridge, introduce the main speaker, forgetting to first introduce the community chorus and then the soloist.

But please note: Morrison did not forget the lineup; it was rearranged after the program was at the printers. 

No matter; all was taken in stride, forgotten amid song and fact, including Morrison's recounting what the FBI was ordered to do following the "I have a Dream" address: "Mark him well."

All stood and sang the James Weldon Johnson hymn "Life Every Voice and Sing," followed by the benediction from the Rev. Karina Fontanez, pastor at Trinity Baptist Church, East Arlington.

The cold remained outside as Arlington's new acting police chief, Juliann Flaherty, watched the diverse audience faithfully from the rear of Robbins Auditorium.

Background  by Kate Cubeta published earlier

People leading all manner of exemplary lives have been invited to speak at the observance over the years. They share their reflections about Dr. King, and on their personal journeys to enhance the lives of others. They educate and inspire. The keynote speaker is the esteemed surgeon Dr. Oneeka Williams.

Williams has a thriving practice at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Boston, while also teaching at Tufts University School of Medicine as an assistant clinical professor of urology. She is judged by her peers to be a superb urological surgeon. Her patients attest to her kindness as well as her expertise.

She lives near Boston with her husband Dr. Charles Anderson and their son, Mark.

Born in South America

She prefers the tropical climate of her childhood to Boston winters. Oneeka was born in Guyana, South America, then moved to Barbados when she was 10.

Her parents were highly influential in her lifelong interests. Effusive in her love of nature and discovery, Oneeka's mother was a science teacher and wrote science texts as well. Her father was a journalist, imparting his delight in writing. Oneeka reveled in writing poetry throughout her childhood. Her joy in writing has never left her.

She is on a mission to encourage girls, especially girls of color, to pursue STEM education. To demonstrate her passion for science and surgery to youngsters, she wrote the book Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo's Mission to Pluto and recently Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo's Meteorite Mission.

Williams sums up her philosophy: "If you are able to connect to your artistic side, it brings into science the creativity that is the foundation of innovation."

The musical program

Filling Town Hall with song is another essential component of the annual tribute to America's slain civil rights leader. Fluent in many styles of music, including Jazz, R&B, Gospel and Classical, the accomplished pianist Paul White has performed around the world. He will rouse spirits in rhythm with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Chorale.

Building on last year's success, White has again directed the chorale in rehearsals leading up to the observance. Voices will "resound loud as the rolling sea" when the evening ends with everyone singing the hymn: "Lift every Voice and Sing."

The event is free of charge, but attendees were encouraged to bring nonperishable food donations, collected that night for the Arlington Food Pantry.

In addition, a free-will offering will be taken to support educational initiatives that pursue the equality, justice and nonviolence that King embodied. Along with the numerous contributions of our loyal sponsors, these funds help finance the race-sensitivity training of Arlington staff, public school curricular enhancements and AHS college scholarships.

This celebration is coordinated by the interfaith group, the Dr. MLK Jr. Birthday Observance Committee in Arlington.

Anyone who cannot attend but would like to make a tax-exempt gift, may send a check to this committee, P.O. Box 320, Arlington, MA 02476. Arlington Town Hall is handicap-accessible and centrally situated at 730 Mass. Ave.

This news announcement was published Monday, Nov. 19, 2018 (508), and updated Jan. 23, 2019, to add a full summary.