ORONO, Maine — The governor’s name was not mentioned Monday during the 15th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast held at the University of Maine. But Gov. Paul LePage’s “kiss my butt” remark — directed in part last week at the Maine chapter of the NAACP — was alluded to by nearly every speaker.
The theme that emerged as one speaker followed another blended King’s commitment to nonviolence with the need for respectful debate rather than name-calling in politics.
Several speakers cited President Barack Obama’s call last week for civility in political discourse in the wake of the shootings in Tucson, Ariz.
“Native people and all people of color share a similar history,” Kirk Francis, tribal chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation, told the crowd of more than 300 at Monday’s breakfast. “Acts of kindness get us over a lot of these issues.”
The event and the keynote speaker, Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of Falls Church, Va., drew more than two dozen members of the Muslim community based at the Islamic Center of Maine, located near the university. The center was listed as a contributor on the program for the breakfast.
Because of the mosque’s community outreach efforts, an average of three events a week — some with local church groups, others with health care organizations — are held with Muslims, said Jenan Jondy, outreach coordinator for the center.
The imam, who was the first Muslim to work as an American college chaplain when he was hired for that position at Howard University in Washington, is well-known for his interfaith work in the nation’s capital.
Abdul-Malik, who was raised in the Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., but spent his summer vacations in a Southern Pentecostal church, converted to Islam in graduate school. His speech Monday wove verses from the Quran and stories of Moses and Jesus in and around quotes from King’s speeches. The imam challenged those at the breakfast to follow King’s “prophetic vision.”
“I have some news for you,” Abdul-Malik said. “We live in some critical times. If Martin Luther King didn’t live in critical times, we would not have heard of him.”
The imam urged people at the breakfast to follow King’s example of seeking change through nonviolence and civility. He was joined in that call by other speakers.
“As we go forth from this place, may we always strive to speak words that build up, that give hope and that dispel hate,” the Rev. William Labbe, pastor of Catholic churches in Orono, Old Town, Indian Island and Bradley, prayed in the benediction. “May our words always be spoken with profound respect for the other. May our words acknowledge the dignity of all people, the value of diversity, and the importance of civility.”