Bust of Martin Luther King Jr. unveiled in Connecticut town
ANSONIA, Conn. (AP) — It began with a dream, then became a suggestion and finally developed into reality.
On Saturday, after three years of fundraising, sculpting and planning, the goal was accomplished.
The bust of Martin Luther King Jr., recommended by Brandon Richards, as a middle school student, sculpted by Vasil Rakaj, an Albanian immigrant and planned and funded by a legion of people was unveiled in front of City Hall before a crowd of nearly 300 people.
“Wow,” remarked state Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia. “This is wonderful. What a celebration. As a community for us to come together like this — it’s something special. ... This is why planting the right seeds in our youth is so important. This idea came from a young child.”
There were children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren next to seniors like 88-year-old Dorothy Redd, sitting in lawn chairs. There were veterans standing erect and Valleyites of all colors and faiths lining the sidewalks as they watched the nearly two-hour ceremony. There were so many people that police closed off Main Street between Bridge and Kingston Streets.
This is only the second bust of King, who as a teen picked tobacco in Simsbury to fund his college education, in a Connecticut city. The other is in a New Britain park
But this is the first in front of a City Hall, said Chicago Rivers, a fifth ward alderman who was involved in the location discussion.
“This is a great day,” said Greg Johnson, head of the Valley NAACP. “This sends a strong message from this community that Justice and Equality is a must. ... It’s a message to generations teaching them about those who came before us and fought for civil rights. It’s a tribute to those that fought with us and will be a reminder to those that come after us of this great man and the great work that still needs to be done.”
The audience heard readings from high school students, music from the Ansonia High School choir and speeches from politicians like Logan, State Rep. Kara Rochelle, D-Ansonia and Mayor David Cassetti.
“What is the common thread that runs through all of Dr. King’s writings, teachings and speeches?” Cassetti asked the crowd. “Unity.”
“To my right is the American flag — a representation of the freedom, democracy and these United States,” he said. “To my left is Veteran’s Park — a tribute to those who fought bravely to defend and keep our country strong and unified. And behind me is the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who unified a nation when it was in turmoil.”
Cassetti referenced the moment of controversy that ensued when the bust, originally planned for Veteran’s Park — a small site set aside for deceased military veterans — faced objections. The mayor convened city officials, veterans pastors to select a new site only a few feet away — the entrance to City Hall.
“All of us standing here today can agree that we all wanted the same thing — a consensus on where to place the statue. Well we have reached consensus. And I must say, there couldn’t be a better place,” he said. “After all, Dr. King said, ‘genuine leaders are not searchers for consensus but molders of consensus.’ ”
The bust sculpted by Rakaj and cast in bronze by Ageless Art Casting in Milford weighs about 450 pounds. It stands atop a pedestal of black granite shipped from Vermont.
“It reminds me of the busts in ancient Rome of their senators and important leaders, ” said the Rev. Edward Young, pastor of St. Peter and St. Paul Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. “Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader who urged us to unify during a time of national disunity. Vasil’s bust denotes a leader of the community.”
Luciana Coku-Rakaj, who teaches Spanish at Derby Middle School, remembers how hard her father-in-law worked on it.
“Every night, he would come home with a change he made and ask me what I think,” she said. “I would tell him it’s perfect but he was never satisfied.”
Rakaj, who works out of the Valley Arts Council’s rooms in the Ansonia Armory, said he listened to King’s speeches, pored over pictures and watched video for inspiration.
“I wanted to get into his head and mind, and then speak for him while molding the clay,” he said.
Project supporters raised about $27,000, according to David Morgan, head of TEAM Inc. who with Diane Stroman, a retired TEAM executive worked with Pastors like Alfred Smith of Macedonia Baptist Church, the Rev. Edward Barnes of the Greater Evangel Temple and Macedonia’s Deacon Dave Gatison to raise the money — most of which came church collections and individual donations.
“We’ve got about $1,100 left, but we want to create a $10,000 maintenance fund so we still need to raise some money,” Morgan said. “Weather tends to turn bronze green and we don’t want that to happen. We’d also like to install lighting around it.”
Lighting is important, according to Interim Police Chief Andrew Cota Jr.
“It’s in a wide-open area with a lot of foot and vehicular traffic,” Cota said. “Hopefully someone intent on doing damage will have the common sense and decency not to do anything to something as nice and important as this is. But should that happen, someone will see it.”
“This is awesome,” said Greg Stamos, a local lawyer who brought his granddaughter, Parelea, 7, a first-grader at Seymour’s Bungay School to the event.
Stamos, a leader in the area’s Greek community, carried a framed issue of the March 26, 1965, issue of Life Magazine which featured King and his Selma walk. Among those next to King in the cover photo was then-Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iavokos, the primate of North and South America.
“I was grateful to accompany our Archbishop Demetrios when the walk was replicated on March 26, 2015 with President (Barack) Obama,” Stamos said.
Now that the bust is finished and placed, Cassetti and Gatison are turning to their next project — an annual commemoration of King and his words of love, peace and unity in front of the statue.
Information from: Connecticut Post, http://www.connpost.com