At Ridgefield’s Martin Luther King celebration, town leaders encourage giving back: ‘Embody the spirit of King’

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

RIDGEFIELD — Singing, dancing and heartfelt speeches made up Ridgefield Playhouse’s 26th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Day Jr. celebration Monday afternoon.

At the free, 90-minute event, Rabbi Emeritus Jon Haddon of Temple Shir Shalom in Ridgefield referenced King as someone with a “deep selflessness” who had a “cause and dream” about all people.

Haddon said King lived a life dedicated to giving to others in the same way Ridgefield Playhouse Executive Director Allison Stockel — who was honored at the event — leads her life.

“For you, too, have had a cause and a dream, to bring culture and joy and some of the greatest talents in the world to a little town called Ridgefield, America,” Haddon said to Stockel, who is a Ridgefield resident.

The celebration and tribute was attended by about 150 people in person with another 250 people watching on YouTube.

Stockel received the Playhouse’s annual Spirit of Dr. King Award for her commitment to service. 

Aside from her position at the Playhouse, Stockel has been involved with many other local nonprofits including The Women's Center the Ridgefield Rotary Club, The Ridgefield Boys and Girls Club, and The Ridgefield Guild of Artists.

The event featured performances by actress Kimberly Wilson, The Ridgefield Chorale, The Ridgefield Diwali Committee, Ridgefield A Better Chance students, and a reading by Ridgefield's poet laureate Barb Jennes. Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray provided a rendition of “Your World Fulfilled.”

In his speech, Mark Robinson, founder of Ridgefield’s MLK Spirit Day event, spoke about the importance of doing good deeds for others — as King did in his lifetime.

“The thing may or may not be in your own personal self interest but is intended to help someone else,” Robinson said.

He added no society anywhere can survive without its members helping one another.

Addressing the audience, he asked, “Are you ready, willing and able to do something for others? For someone you may have never met or never meet?”

He added doing a good deed should not just be done on Martin Luther King Day, nor should it be a “one and done.”

“This is our way of living,” he said. “This is every day.”

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi referenced King’s “I have a Dream” speech, asking those in attendance if they thought King’s hope for equality and prosperity for people of color has been fulfilled.

“Have we as Americans erased the presence of inequity and opened the roads to prosperity for all?” Marconi said.

He added that he doesn’t think so.

“Have we in Ridgefield done our part? I don’t think we have,” he said.

Marconi said one way for Ridgefield to become less racially segregated pertains to the topic of education, and specifically the Open Choice program.

This program allows students from city schools to attend suburban schools. It’s meant to address increasing enrollment in Danbury and Norwalk schools and declining student population in nearby towns.

“Open Choice would allow children from neighboring Danbury to attend Ridgefield schools,” Marconi said.

He added while the practice of segregation is illegal, “schools right here in Connecticut are still incredibly segregated. We can play a positive role by participating in Open Choice with our neighbor, the city of Danbury.”

He added a social education is “as valuable” as an academic education.

“This is what Dr. King’s dreams are all about,” he added.

In her speech, Stockel said she looks at the Martin Luther King award as a “paying it forward award.”

She said there are many people in Ridgefield who “embody the spirit of King,” in that they volunteer so much of their time and energy towards others.

“They care so much about others that they don’t take into account how much time or energy taking care of others or committing to a certain nonprofit or nonprofits will take away from their lives — because doing this work is their lives,” Stockel said.

She said honoring those people encourages others to follow in their example.

“If you think of little Ridgefield and of how much giving we have here and if you can replicate that around the country, around the world, think of how much better a world this would be,” she said. “We honor Dr. King by honoring those in this community who do his work and by doing so, we encourage others to do the same.”

sfox@hearstmediact.com 203-948-9802