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Watertown Urged to Think Beyond Civil Rights During Annual MLK Jr. Celebration

Keynote speaker Robert Lewis Jr. said people should work for social justice and human rights.

On the day that many gathered in Watertown to celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., a Boston civic leader said people should think more broadly than civil rights and fight for human rights.

Robert Lewis Jr., the vice president for program at the Boston Foundation, said Lewis said he was delighted to be able to speak to a room full of people celebrating King. He added that he was impressed to see how many years the town has held the Unity Breakfast sponsored by World in Watertown.

“For the last 13 years you have been of the legacy and values of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A lot of people are just getting out of bed,” Lewis said. “If you live by the teaching of Dr. King, everyday is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

This year's breakfast was held Monday morning at the Hellenic Cultural Center.

Toward the end of his life King’s focus was not only on civil rights, but also on social justice and human rights, Lewis said.

Across the United States and Boston alike people face a variety of challenges, from finding jobs to worrying about safety after the Newtown shootings, Lewis said. Gun safety one of Lewis’ concerns. He helped curb street violence in Boston during Mayor Ray Flynn’s administration when Lewis served as director of Boston’s Streetworkers Program.

“I’m not going to get into the gun rights debate, but something is wrong when children are being killed by illegal guns and legal guns,” Lewis said. “The issue is that guns are hurting our children.”

World in Watertown's Will Twombly noted tha an event called a Conversation about Gun Safety will be held on Feb. 7 at 6:45 p.m. at the Watertown Free Public Library, with a panel including Watertown Police Chief Edward Deveau, State Sen. Will Brownsberger and State Rep. Jonathan Hecht.

Lewis concluded by giving those at the Unity Breakfast a challenge and encouragement to work for social justice and human rights.

“Can we commit to working, commit to making the world a better place?” Lewis said. “Watertown can we commit to that?”

Songs and Awards

The morning also was filled with music, provided by the The Greater Boston Intergenerational Chorus, directed by Joanne Hammil, and the Chosen Voices of Harmony, directed by Sylvester Hill.

The organizers, World in Watertown, hand out the Unity Award to those who have given to the community. Eileen Hsu-Balzer received the award this year for her work in a wide range of groups and causes, said Larry Raskin, a board member of World in Watertown.

Hsu-Balzer has served on the School Committee for 18 years and now serves as the board’s chair. She also founded and organizes the Watertown Summer Concert Series, supported the Watertown Children’s Theatre and serves on the board of the Watertown Boy’s and Girl’s Club. Outside Watetown, she is on the board of The Women’s Lunch Place, which serves homeless women in Boston.

Hsu-Balzer said she was honored to receive an award from a group that seeks to bring people together during a time when so many seem to focus on people’s differences.

The World in Watertown also honored two students for their essays on Martin Luther King. The winners were eighth-grader Cyril Brutus and 10th grader Tessa Collins.

Beyond Watertown

During the invocation, Rev. Antranig Baljian of St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church, asked people to also remember the people of Syria.

“Many, many of them are Armenian, who relocated to Syria after the Genocide of 1915,” Baljian said. “Now they are under the gun. Their lives are in danger and some of lost their lives. Let us remember them in our prayers.”

[Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that the Gun Safety forum was being presented by World in Watertown.]

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