Keep smiling in the face of number twos. That’s what Reverend Justin Lester told the crowd at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet on the morning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He was referring to that number two – the bathroom kind – and how this mantra should be used in regards to President Donald Trump’s most recent comments on immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries.
The Reverend got the idea from his seven-year-old son, who he said still smiles when he’s going “number two.”
This theme continued throughout the morning as speakers including Governor Raimondo, Senators Whitehouse and Reed, Representative Cicilline, Treasurer Magaziner and Secretary of State Gorbea addressed the President’s recent comments and tried to tie them to what they were celebrating
The elected officials and more than 300 were there to honor MLK Jr. at the 35th annual MLK day scholarship breakfast, put on by the Rhode Island Ministers Alliance. Seventeen minority college students were given scholarships based on academic performance and need.
When Mayor Allan Fung took the podium he first addressed the “elephant in the room,” a reference to being a Republican in a room filled with Democrats.
“If the President did say that, he has to live by it,” Fung said. Before he could finish the sentence, many from the crowd yelled out that whether or not President Trump said the remarks isn’t in question – he did say it.
After getting past that, the Cranston Mayor talked about being from an immigrant family and that as a minority he wouldn’t be where he is today without MLK Jr. He also repeated a phrase from Providence College student Phionna Claude, who read one of Dr. King’s poems to the crowd earlier in the morning: “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Despite the attempt by all the speakers to stick to honoring MLK and the scholarship recipients on hand during their speeches, politics – specifically President Trump’s recent comments – were a magnetic force they couldn’t get away from.
“I didn’t want to make this an anti-Trump speech,” Governor Raimondo said. “But it’s on all of us to stand up against the President and the politicians who support him. The words he used last week to denigrate immigrants…were shockingly un-presidential. We’re not going to take that and we’re not going to be silenced either.”
Senator Whitehouse continued talking politics, applauding the fact that Alabama recently elected a Democrat, Doug Jones, to the Senate, and pointing out that over 95 percent of the African American vote went to him during the election.
Getting back to the “number two” analogy, Reverend Matthew Kai, the president of the Rhode Island Minister’s Alliance, said that President Trump should just “stop doing number two, but he keeps doing number two. The guy in the White House has a different four-letter word for it, too.”
Kai introduced the keynote speaker for the event, Reverend Sammy Vaughan, a former member of the alliance and current Reverend in Virginia.
In what was perhaps a surprising decision to many in the audience, Vaughan decided to stop the Trump talk and focus solely on the youth instead. Vaughan said beforehand, to Beacon/Herald reporters, that he was “disgusted” by Trump and didn’t even want to talk about him.
In his speech he focused on the temptations young people have in today’s culture.
“Teenagers face the same basic temptations since the beginning of time,” he said. “But we live in a culture today where temptation is more available, intense, and destructive than ever before.”
He didn’t say specifically what temptations young people have, but he said that new technology has played a role in enhancing temptation for the youth. He said this technology has stopped children from having conversations with each other, which is bad for society overall.
He also used a metaphor: “Teenagers have eyesight problems. A daughter can’t find clothes in a full closet and a son can’t find food to eat in a full refrigerator.”
He did cut young people some slack, saying that because of that new technology adults don’t really know the pressures that today’s teenagers face in this “day and age.” He also asked this question: “Do we confuse individuality with immorality?”
The point of his speech about temptations was to say that adults should help teenagers to become better people by setting a good example – not saying on thing and doing another – and without being negative, critical, or having unrealistic expectations.
So on a day honoring Martin Luther King Jr., criticizing President Trump’s recent comments, and addressing the temptations that can deter teenagers on their paths, 17 deserving students were given scholarships to help pay for school, and as the speakers noted, drive out hate with love.