The AFSC’s New Hampshire Program celebrated its 35th anniversary October 15 with 150 friends and an engaging conversation led by Dr. Vincent Harding, a close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. who is now a Professor Emeritus of Religion at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
After a dinner prepared by AFSC volunteers, with donations from several local restaurants, attenders filled the pews of the sanctuary at the Concord Unitarian Universalist Church. Keith Harvey, the AFSC’s New England Regional Director, said the New Hampshire Program embodies the “servant leadership” and movement-building approach championed by Ella Baker, a legendary civil rights activist who worked behind the scenes in the 1950s and 60s, and who gave crucial support to the emerging leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Keith’s words were appropriately followed by recognition of Molly Messenger, who had just finished a two-year term as AFSC’s NH Youth Organizer. Holly Clayman, Jen Walkup, and Audrey Coleman each shared a few words about Molly’s role bringing local youth together and helping them give voice to their concerns about violence, racism, and injustice.
By coincidence, Vincent also began his portion of the program with reference to Ella Baker, the subject of a Sweet Honey in the Rock song with the memorable refrain, “We who believe in freedom will not rest.” As he approaches his 80th birthday, Vincent said, he has little interest in giving or listening to speeches. As he had done the night before to a full audience at Keene State College, he led the participants in a back-and-forth conversation on the theme of “Dreaming a New America,” interspersing poetry and song with observations drawing on decades of experience as a historian, theologian, and participant in the struggle to achieve “a more perfect union.” One participant noted “how effective he was in slowing everyone down and demonstrating his point about democracy and listening and sharing. I felt as if I'd been to a retreat!”
The program began with a song performed by Moira Geary, a student at Northwood Coe Brown Academy, and ended with a one from Oyster River High School student Willow Bergeron.
Due to financial pressures which have forced a suspension of the NH Youth Empowerment Program after ten years, the celebration carried a note of sadness coupled with resolve to find new ways to nurture the next generation of activists.