Speaker at Martin Luther King ceremony urges people to mentor a child

Superior Court Judge Robin L. Wilson urged people to make the world a better place by becoming youth mentors during the city’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. ceremony Sunday.

The judge and others who spoke touched on the woes of the country today, from economic troubles to gun violence, which she said has reached an all-time high.

She spoke of President Barack Obama’s pledge for a brighter future and admitted that as he enters his second term, people are becoming impatient.

The judge referred to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his appeal to the public to volunteer and to try to make a difference as individuals. Doing that, she said, will help bring Obama’s dream within reach.

“What are you doing for others?” she asked attendees at the annual City Hall remembrance of King, called “Reflections, A Tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Too many people are selfish, she said, referring to King’s 1957 speech “Conquering Self-Centeredness” given in Montgomery, Ala., in which the civil rights leader talked about conquering selfishness.

“So many people never get beyond self-centeredness,” Wilson said. “It is a problem that meets us in everyday life.”

The consequences of a selfish life are “tragic,” she said, adding that selfishness leads to personal unhappiness and does nothing to benefit the community.

One way to battle that is to reach out and volunteer in the community to make other people’s lives better, thereby taking the focus off the individual. The judge added that people are more likely to realize they don’t have it as badly as they think they do if they commit themselves to helping others.

Wilson said her personal platform involves serving as a mentor for youth, and she urged others to borrow her mission. She challenged them to go out and mentor a youth, saying a positive adult role model makes a great difference in the life of a child, especially those who grow up in disadvantaged situations.

A member of the New Haven Youth Commission who presided over Juvenile Court for three and one-half years, she said, “By empowering our youth, we empower our democracy.”

Citing statistics, she asked the people gathered at the service to try to close the educational achievement gap between blacks and whites.

“The future of our nation is in the hands of young people,” she said.

The Links Inc., a public service organization, sponsors the annual Martin Luther King ceremony to reflect on King’s contributions to equal rights. The ceremony, as in past years, was well attended: Most of the seats in City Hall were filled.

Links member Jodi Cornish, who was among a handful of speakers, said much has been done in terms of accomplishing Martin Luther King’s objectives, but she said there is still a lot of work to do.

“World peace does not happen overnight,” Cornish said.

She urged listeners to be like Dr. King and take up a cause and fight for it, whether it be gun control or any other issue plaguing the nation.

Sen. Gayle Slossberg spoke too. As a member of a new state committee tasked with studying gun laws and mental health issues surrounding the tragic school shooting in Newtown in December, she said it is time Americans pledge themselves to protect the safety of children everywhere.

In the last couple of months, Slossberg said she has spoken to people who want to respond to the violence with violence. But she said that the late civil rights leader taught Americans to battle hatred with love and preached against using violence to combat violence.

Sunday’s ceremony included not just speeches, but inspirational music from the Chapel Street School Choir, the Foran High School Advanced Vocal Ensemble and the Celentano Museum Academy Chorus.

The music was chosen for its inspiring themes, said Jennyfer A. Holmes, mistress of ceremonies.

The first song sung was Amazing Grace, and the gathering closed the ceremony by singing We Shall Overcome.