By Martha Bezzat
For several hundred members of the Greater Malden community, the Saturday before the Martin Luther King holiday was a time to gather at Anthony’s of Malden for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Luncheon. These past two years, the event has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and many deeply felt the loss of that tradition.
“The North Shore Black Women’s Association’s MLK Jr. Luncheon is all about rejoicing and rededication,” said Adam Weldai, Ward 5 School Committee member. “It has been sorely missed these past two years, especially as the challenges of structural racism and inequality that so many have known and lived for so long have been brought to the forefront for those who it was less familiar to.”
He added, “The luncheons, through speakers, song, and moments of reflection give us a chance to be among a caring community, remind us how connected we truly are, and give us the joy and strength to move forward with the work that needs to be done.”
For 27 years, prior to the onset of the pandemic, the NSBWA has rallied prominent Malden politicians, community organizers, business leaders, residents, and students to honor the legacy of Dr. King. Beloved by both a core group of regular attendees, as well as newcomers, the annual luncheon typically draws 300 to 350 attendees packed into Anthony’s ballroom. It’s a celebration of local influencers who embody Dr. King’s spirit and beliefs. It is also the major fundraiser for the NSBWA, which annually awards scholarships to local students.
“The Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon allows the interaction of African Americans and others in the city, a common celebration of MLK, and brings out people who are supportive of his nonviolent approach to civil rights and shows what a great city Malden is across class/color/gender lines,” said Neal Anderson, the recently retired City Councilor and regular MC for the event.
NSBWA President Shannon Anderson acknowledged, “It was disappointing not being able to hold the luncheon again this year, but we felt it was the best decision to assure everyone remained healthy…we hope to hold it and other events as soon as we see a steady decline in the spread of the coronavirus.”
She added, “The luncheon is our association’s signature event, and it will continue to be a permanent program for the NSBWA. We planned to have it, but like many organizations, determined that it wasn’t safe to put our stakeholders at risk due to the COVID- 19 pandemic.”
Peg Crowe, Ward 1 City Councilor has been to “just about every luncheon they have had from the beginning.” She added, “I am so sad that they once again could not have this event; it is one of my favorite events, as it is uplifting, makes you think, and they always find very engaging speakers. I hope they are able to bring it back soon!”
Ms. Anderson said the NSBWA adjusted by having Zoom meetings to assure members remained healthy and safe. “Our goal is to continue what we have been doing, to continue the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. through events and activities,” she said.
NSBWA co-founder Iodiah Henry said that in 2021 fundraisers were held remotely by the NSBWA, including raffles, and four scholarships were awarded to local students. “This organization shows that involvement makes a difference; we bring the community together as Dr. King brought people together; he envisioned that one day we would all come to the realization that we are one, so we honor the memory of MLK and what he stood for,” Henry said.
Rakeem Langston, a recent recipient, said he was honored to received a NSBWA scholarship award. “It really helped to put towards college. I know many kids are not able to receive scholarship money because of grades and I was one of those kids but the Black Women’s Association viewed my application and essay and gave me a chance to win scholarship money, and I’m really thankful for that and I furthered my education with their help.”
Ms. Anderson herself was also a scholarship recipient. She recalled, “I appreciated it because it helped me to advance my education and took a little financial pressure off me by getting the award.”
She noted that the NSBWA “was established to bring unity and growth to our communities through programs that would unite and strengthen them and create diversity.” She herself attended these luncheons with her family before becoming president, “and looked up to these women.” Furthermore, she “wanted to be involved with an organization in the community” where she was born and raised.
Neal Anderson’s connection with the group’s history is long, and he sees its importance historically. “I started attending many years ago when the group was first beginning, when the women who started it looked to me for key important players to be identified and acknowledge and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to do that.”
“Black women in Malden typify what we saw happening throughout the South who banded together and who were very strong in the civil rights movement, but who didn’t get the same acknowledgment as the men,” Mr. Anderson said. “But who put together this event in Malden? Black women.”
“Black women helped propel the Democrats throughout the South to be able to win the White House, the Senate, and the House with a block of votes; Black people were mobilized and came out…so Malden is a microcosm of what’s going on in the country,” Mr. Anderson said.
Shannon Anderson said that the NSBWA, which “brings those from different ethnic and social backgrounds together,” is staying connected to its members and that “many of our supporters have reached out to us and look forward to the MLK luncheon because of the time they get to spend with their friends and family.”
For more information on the NSBWA visit the website or Facebook page. To make a donation to the NSBWA college scholarship fund, send a check to NSBWA, P.O. Box 631, Malden, MA 02148.