Change doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen quietly, and rarely looks pretty.  

That was the message from Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at the Ridgefield Playhouse, which honored Ridgefield High School junior and National School Walkout founder Lane Murdock with the town’s inaugural Profile In Courage award.

“For 15 years, we have presented the Spirit of Dr. King, Ridgefield Community Service Award. Well not this year. This year, we are going to do something brand-new,” explained Mark Robinson, who co-organizes the annual MLK Day event with First Selectman Rudy Marconi. “This year, we are going to present the very first Martin Luther King Jr. Profile In Courage Award.

Robinson said the award will be given to individuals who risk personal well-being in pursuit of a social justice.

“The purpose of Lane’s campaign was to take on the issue of gun violence in America; an issue virtually guaranteed to win you an army of vocal public critics, mean-spirited enemies and unrelenting Internet trolls,” he said. “Lane did not choose the smooth path. She chose the path dictated by her conscience. And that makes Lane a hero. And the recipient of the first Martin Luther King Jr. Profile In Courage Award. An award we created because of her.”

Murdock, who was just 15-years-old when she launched the National School Walkout movement last February following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., told the crowd of about 150 people who attended the MLK ceremony Monday that encouraging students nationwide and fighting critics were “an odyssey within an odyssey.”

She credited social justice leaders from the previous generations for leading by example, and said that the future holds “many voices we’ve yet to hear from.”

“These are voices we will need to hear from because they’re the ones that will continue to bring about change,” she said, accepting the award.

“Change isn’t quiet,” she added. “Change isn’t pretty or fast; it’s slow.

Murdock motivated the audience “to seek out and listen to all the little voices out there.”

She said the most important lesson she learned while campaigning against gun violence was listening to the people who shared different opinions.

“You need to listen to the people who scare you because they have the most to teach you.”

Measurements of the heart

Daniela Sikora, who led the Ridgefield Chorale in songs, like “All Night All Day” and “Lean on Me,” throughout the ceremony, spoke after Murdock and said the Ridgefield community could learn more from her.

Robinson introduced Marconi earlier in the celebration, and the first selectman thanked the crowd for coming out despite the frigid temperatures Monday afternoon.

“What have we accomplished? What have we done?” he asked the room, noting that he reviewed his speech from 2018 earlier in the day and wanted to trace the community’s progress over the last year.

He highlighted three key points from the 2018 speech — denouncing racism, unlearning bigotry, and welding together in solidarity against hatred — and said Ridgefield had came up short.

“We need to keep working,” he said. “It’s sad to report a continuance of elevated racism, it’s something that concerns me deeply.”

He spoken in general terms about an event that happened the day after Christmas that involved hate speech.

“It was horrifying and shocking,” he said, withholding other details. “The community needs to have compassion to step forward.”

While there were negatives, Marconi did stress the town has made strides in its anti-violence and anti-bullying programs in schools. He invited community members to join an “all-out effort” to bring tolerance to all of Ridgefield.

“I want Ridgefield to be known as a compassionate community,” he said. “...Although I can’t measure the progress with a yardstick, I know in my heart we are getting there. It takes a while for us to turn it around but it’s happening.”

Singers, speakers

Samantha Lundstrom, a KEYS student from Bridgeport, performed Pharrell Williams’ “Freedom” with Peter Randazzo on the piano, following Marconi’s speech.

Kimberly Wilson read excerpts from Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Robinson delivered his speech titled, “Choosing the Rough Path.”

He talked about the two types of faith — “if” and “through” — in regards to ending gun violence and mass shootings in the United States.

“We cannot live by ‘if’ faith ... We cannot walk only on the smooth path,” Robinson said. “We must work for love and justice and for the community of people all around us — not just when it is easy — but most especially when it is hard, most especially when our spirits are pushed to the breaking point.

“When Martin Luther King spoke to his parishioners, to his followers and to the rest of America, he called upon them to join him on a journey down the rough path,” Robinson added. “They all understood the ultimate goal of the struggle for civil rights. They all understood what might lie at the end of the journey.”

Cantor Deborah Katchko Gray from Congregation Shir Shalom took the stage after Robinson and performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with the chorale.

The Rev. Chuck Bonadies of the Ridgefield Baptist Church reflected on Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence.

He introduced Marlene Edwards from Ridgefield A Better Chance, who performed an a cappella version of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.”

Aimee Berger-Girvalo, who co-founded Ridgefield’s chapter of the Women’s March in 2017, spoke about wisdom, justice and love.

She gave way to Murdock’s award and speech, which were followed by a performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine” by the ACT Children’s Chorus.

The Rev. Karen Ann Halec of First Congregational Church gave the ceremony benediction.

“Ask what makes you come alive and go do it,” the Rev. Halec said. “That’s what the world needs.”