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An Evening Honoring Martin Luther King

When Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 to deliver his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech, he envisioned all races and religions coming together and living in peace. Those words, so eloquently spoken, made us think and inspired us to be better people and slowly, over time, change did happen.

Reverend Terry Yvette Cissé, the interim Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Levittown, had a similar dream of bringing different religions and races to her church, and on Sunday her dream came true. Reverends from around Long Island, along with a Cantor, joined together in a musical celebration. “I am excited to bring this event to Levittown," Rev.  Cissé  said. "It’s a wonderful opportunity to bring this community together and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.”

Looking stunning in a gold robe and turban from Timbuktu, where she once lived, Rev. Cissé opened the services with a greeting to the members of the church, many who had come not just locally but from out of state, some from her previous parish in New Jersey. Reverend Mark Tammen, The General Presbyter of Long Island, opened with a prayer and then Universal Praise filled the church with song as part of a musical presentation. After the sign of peace the PAYLA psalmists wowed the audience with more musical renditions, getting the entire church to join in.

The PAYLA project — short for the Pan African Youth Leadership Academy — was created to engage youth in New York and Long Island metropolitan areas from racial ethnic and at risk communities with leadership potential to take an active role in bringing about change in their communities. This project is endorsed by the presbyteries of New York City and Long Island. The funds collected during the service will go toward a camp they are sending students to this summer who will be part of the PAYLA project.

After readings from a Hebrew and Greek bible, Cantor Steve Sher of Temple B’nai Torah of Wantagh sang for the congregation. Liturgical dancers from Christ First Presbyterian of Hempstead, First Presbyterian Church Freeport and the Presbyterian Church of Sweet Hollow, Melville danced throughout the church and engaged the audience members.

Elder Jermaine Ofori Bethel with the House of Yahweh in the Bronx spoke of the life of Martin Luther King. He talked of the legacy that MLK left behind by planting the seeds of hope. Levittown started as a potato farm until WWII ended and the returning GI’s needed affordable housing. William Levitt, a Jewish builder, created Levittown with the stipulation that the homes only be sold to white Christians, no Jews, no blacks. Fast forward to 2014 and here was a multiracial, religious congregation celebrating Martin Luther King’s life, led by their Rev. Cissé a Princeton, Harvard educated woman and the first African American woman to lead the parish.

Rev. Cissé admits that it has not always been easy but she is very optimistic and hopeful about the community and has many more programs to bring different cultures together.

The evening ended with more musical renditions, one from a diminutive Kyetah Bryant with a powerful voice that got everyone up on their feet, clapping and singing. The energy and joy in the church were palpable. As the music ended, the words of Martin Luther King echoed in the church as guests filed out hugging one another. Wiping tears from her eyes Rev. Wanda Hughes, Pastor, Presbyterian Chruch of Garden City had this comment,” I thought it was a joyful celebration. It was inspired and wonderful for all of us to get together and celebrate. I was deeply touched and moved.”