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Jamaica Library celebrates King’s legacy with letters

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died more than 40 years ago, but that did not stop groups of young students from the borough from showing their appreciation for him in the form of a personal letter.

Letters from dozens of students were featured and read at a Martin Luther King event at the Central Library Saturday, one day after the civil rights leader’s birthday.

Borough President Helen Marshall said she felt proud reading some of the letters during the event, not only because black Americans have come far since King’s time but also because young minorities understand the struggles that went on to achieve their equality.

“Our children are very lucky to go to school with children from around the world,” she said.

Several schools, including the Merrick Academy, PS 34 in Queens Village and PS 95 in Jamaica, participated in the library’s “Dear Dr. King” project. Since 1991, elementary schoolchildren have been asked to write personal letters to Dr. King that told him how they are continuing his dream.

Library officials said the program has been growing over the years since many schools have been pushing their students to improve their writing. Wedlene Simeon said she wanted her daughter, Angeline, to take part because it gave the girl new insight into black American history.

“I wanted her to participate and gain more information. You always gain more knowledge through participation,” said Wedlene Simeon, of Springfield Gardens.

In their letters, some of the students told King that the country was a better place because minorities are allowed the same rights as whites. Many said that the civil rights leader, who was assassinated in April 1969 after nearly two decades of fighting for civil rights around the South, would have been proud to know that there is a black president.

“I thanked him for freedom of speech and I told him that if he were alive, he would be happy,” said PS 95 student Mohammed Khan, 9.

In a letter written by student Brian Sutherland and read out loud by Marshall, he congratulated King for making the change without advocating violence.

“You have done away with much of our (strife),” the letter said. “Thank you for not using violence even during the roughest times.”

The borough president said students should also use their minds and hearts to achieve their dreams and encouraged them to stay in school.

“He was able to cause a dramatic change ... and he had a powerful weapon: love,” she said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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