A social-activist professor from who helped safeguard immigrant rights and two Larchmont founders of the community’s first digital newspaper will be the special honorees at the 25th public Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at .
The celebration, entitled “Looking Back, Moving Forward,” is hosted by the s, with the help of the .
Dr. , associate professor at Purchase College, has been selected to receive the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Award for carrying on the ideals of equal opportunity championed by King. He served as co-president and then president of the during a pivotal period for local immigrant rights. The social services of the agency and its community education program, which he oversaw, have been widely credited with leading to local acceptance of new immigrants and their right to seek work.
The Human Rights Committee will give a special tribute to the all-volunteer , its founders, and Dr. , and the many reporters and photographers who kept it going for eight years, until it was suspended in September 2010. The two founders saw a gap in needed community news and worked to fill it.
Dr. James A. Forbes, senior pastor emeritus of New York’s Riverside Church, a leading civil rights advocate, will deliver the keynote address.
Among the other program highlights planned for the celebration are performances and presentations by students from Mamaroneck and Rye Neck High Schools and the Hommocks Middle School.
The celebration is set for 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 11.
Gitlitz inherited his passion for human rights as a child at his family’s meal table in Binghamton. His father, a lawyer, helped found an interracial organization that ran open housing drives. Gitlitz remembers the family getting nasty phone calls at 3 a.m. He also remembers, as a freshman at Oberlin College, meeting King and shaking his hand. “He had come to deliver an auditorium speech and the students were crazy about him.”
Gitlitz resigned as president of the Hispanic Resource Center this past autumn but remains on the board. He teaches Latin American Studies, Immigration, and Human Rights courses at Purchase College and recently completed a book entitled “Informal Intercultural Justice,” based on 30 years of academic visits to Peru where for 15 years he specifically studied rural justice as practiced by a tiny community in the countryside. He recently delivered a paper on this subject in Peru attended by members of the Peruvian Supreme Court.
The idea for the Larchmont Gazette germinated when the two founders worked together helping to create the web page, one of the first municipal on-line web sites in New York State. Eisenberg had majored in journalism in college and also was a computer techie. Silberstein, a clinical psychologist, did not have a journalism background, but proved to be a natural editor.
When the Gazette started in 2002, “software programs available were pretty clunky,” Eisenberg said. For some years technical challenges were met with seat-of-the-pants solutions.
At first, the two founders did most of the writing and editing. But soon professional and non-professional writers and photographers joined the team. When the paper was suspended in September 2010, it had dozens of regular writers and many more community contributors. Many volunteers who trained under editor Silberstein are now writing for other publications and local not-for-profit organizations.
The Gazette, with all its archival content, is still on line,” Eisenberg said. In November, 4,000 individuals visited its site.
The Human Rights Committee was impressed by the journalism vigor of the Gazette and believed it helped raise the bar for other area publications and encouraged the founding of other local digital newspapers.
Keynote speaker Dr. Forbes became the first African-American minister of the multicultural Riverside Church in Manhattan, built by John D. Rockefeller in 1937. He retired in 2007 after 18 years in the post. Newsweek magazine described him some years back as “one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world.” As a young man he participated in civil rights sit-ins and other protests, most notably at segregated lunch counters in Woolworth stores. He was pastor of several southern churches and was a professor at the Union Theological Seminary for a number of years.
Riverside Church has a long history of advocating for the poor, the disenfranchised and for peace. Dr. King delivered his famous “Beyond Vietnam” speech at the church on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he was murdered.