Martin Luther King Jr.Martin Luther King Jr.

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UPDATED Jan. 21: The 35th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Observance featured Tanisha Sullivan, Boston NAACP president and former secretary of state candidate, as the keynote speaker.

The event -- in person for the first time in three years -- was held in Arlington Town Hall at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Day. Note that the program will start earlier than in the past and without refreshments served, so eat beforehand.

The event was streamed live via >> The program is available on the public channels: RCN 629, Verizon 31, Comcast 8, or the government channels: RCN 614, Verizon 26, Comcast 22. 

Invocation, honor, music

Rabbi Avi Bukiet of the Jewish Center for Life Arlington-Belmont presents the invocation. The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Good of Calvary United Methodist Church offers the benediction.

In between, music and conversation will further inform and entertain the audience and reinforce the importance of Dr. King’s life. Lee Phenner is to be honored for her dedicated work articulating Martin Luther King’s legacy. Arlington High School students in the Performing Arts Department headed by Jing-Huey Wei  share their musical talents and lead the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Keynote address, background

Tanisha M. Sullivan, president of the NAACP Boston branch, offers the keynote address. The NAACP helped to shape her character, Sullivan said, starting when she was 6 years old. Nan Ellison was both her haircutter and the president of NAACP Brockton then.

Watch the Jan. 9 meeting on ACMi:

Tanisha grew up overhearing discussions of social and racial issues at the hair salon. Ellison asked her at age 9 or 10 to speak at a NAACP breakfast. The organization’s youth outreach to Tanisha continued when she was a teenager. The Boston branch sponsored her in the ACT-SO competition program to nurture her talents.

Far and away the greatest influence on Sullivan has been her parents. Like them “her work has been focused on service, equity, and impact.” Born and raised in Boston, her father was hired by the Boston Public Schools in 1974 to help enforce the federal desegregation order. He went on to head the John O’Bryant High School. Her mother, also born in Boston, became a small-business entrepreneur, owning home day-care outlets.

She also published the Black Pages of New England [directory] to magnify the scope of black-owned companies. Sullivan said that her love of public service began early on, helping her mother stock the food pantry and serve in the soup kitchen of their church.

Brockton, Thayer

Tanisha was a student in the Brockton Public Schools’ program for academically advanced children. Then she attended Thayer Academy in Braintree. After that she thrived at the University of Virginia, participating in its student government and earning her BA in government from there. Sullivan next attended Boston College, where she obtained both her J.D. and M.B.A. degrees.

As a corporate lawyer in the biotechnology field, Sullivan learned about venture-capital opportunities never available to her mother nor to similar small-business owners. She rose to associate general counsel for Sanofi-Genzyme in Cambridge while volunteering with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Economic Justice Project, after the killing of George Floyd by police in 2020. Lobbying for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act was one measure that she and her team pursued.

Sullivan also served as chief equity officer of the Boston Public Schools from 2013 to 2015. Regarding her tenacity, she told the Baystate Banner that “she was raised a fighter, never one to back down from a challenge -- or more importantly, a call to serve … I’ve always had that kind of spirit, where I’m going to do the thing that people think is impossible.”

Does she not sound like Martin Luther King?

NAACP head since 2017

Sullivan took the reins of the Boston NAACP in 2017, a particularly unsettling time as Trump was newly elected to the White House. Multiple, publicized murders of black people by police drove her to tackle police violence and policy locally. The blatant unfairness of the pandemic response to Covid moved her to address the inequity of health resources in Boston. Sullivan is tenacious and courageous. When she speaks, people listen.

In 2022 Sullivan ran for secretary of state, with plans to expand its role. Although her campaign against a seven-term incumbent was not successful, the changes to the status quo in Massachusetts to which she aspired were noteworthy. For instance, to boost voter participation, she proposed holding state elections at the same time as presidential ones when more people come out to vote. Sullivan also campaigned for lowering registration fees for local businesses, which are now prohibitive and some of the highest in the country.

Wearing masks at Town Hall is encouraged but not required. Masks will be provided in the lobby as well as bottled water.

 This celebration is put on by an interfaith group centered in Arlington. Tax-deductible contributions are appreciated to cover the cost of the event and educational initiatives in line with Dr. King’s vision.

Donations may be made online at: Arlington MLK Jr Birthday Observance Committee or by sending a check to the MLK, Jr. Birthday Observance Committee, PO Box 320, Arlington MA 02476. 

This news announcement from the Arlington International Film Festival was published Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. It was updated Jan. 10 with extensive background from Kate Cubeta, a member of the MLK Committee, and then Jan. 21, to add ACMi window.