BENNINGTON >> The Bennington Interfaith Council and the Greater Bennington Peace and Justice Center (GBPJC) lit up Main Street with their dancing and music in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday night.
A candlelight vigil at The Four Corners kicked off the evening followed by the Community Dance Team's presentation to the music of "Glory," which was featured in the film "Selma."
A procession was held at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House where the program, Diversity: How and Why, was hosted by a community panel discussion. Speakers included Lydia Brassard, Bennington College diversity officer; Chris Williams, Shires Housing board member; Matthew Harrington, director Bennington Chamber of Commerce; Dr. David Evans, president Southern Vermont College; and Abigail Belcrest, Williams College Women of Islam.
"If we want diversity, we need to be comfortable with conflict. Conflict isn't bad," Harrington claimed. "The content of a character is the issue, not the color of our skin."
Mary Lee Clark of the Second Congregational Church of Bennington and Peter Lawrence of the Greater Bennington Peace and Justice Center introduced the procession and delegated discussion.
Belcrest is a senior at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and notes that it's easy to get trapped in the college's small colony, so she hopes to expand her efforts into neighboring communities.
"There's a lot of great energy here and it's great to see how passionate people are about celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy," Belcrest said.
Siding with Harrington's idea, Dr. Evans believes individuals should get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
"If you are spending time and sitting down at meals or having conversations with people who don't have the same background or cultural assumptions that you do, there is naturally going to be potential for friction and discomfort," Evans said. "I think through that, you have a chance to grow, and everybody has a chance to grow."
The event's end goal was to explore how Bennington can progress toward evolving its multi-cultural, inter-generational and thriving community, according to a release from Andrew Schoerke of GBPJC.
Bassard adapted an idea from King's "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" where the author questioned the meaning of the word riot. She disagrees with the meaning of diversity and wishes that people could use their experiences to reevaluate the purpose of the word.
"Diversity is an inadequate term to describe the conditions as opposed to embodiment. The conditions meaning a space in which everyone can live freely," Bassard said. "How we become more diverse is sort of, not the question. It's 'what do we have now, what do we have in front of us and what do I bring to the table.'"