The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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January 20, 2013

Person of the Week: Keeping legacy alive: NAACP program remembers Martin Luther King Jr.

JOHNSTOWN — Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is being remembered this week in observances throughout the nation.

Laura Perry-Thompson is doing her part to spread King’s message.

As co-chairwoman of the Johnstown Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s 27th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Remembrance Program, she has been busy.

“It’s important to be involved with the program to carry on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., especially in terms of making the youths aware of his legacy,” said Perry-Thompson about why she has helped with the program for many years.

“His (King’s) focus was on equal opportunities for everyone and peace.

“We, as members of the NAACP and the community as a whole, want to work to ensure equal rights and opportunities for everyone.”

Perry-Thompson believes it is especially important to make young people aware of what King had accomplished.

“They need our support to carry on that very important work,” said Perry-Thompson, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Master of Social Work program, located on the campus of Pitt-Johnstown.

“My involvement started last spring by looking at ways to get the youths more connected in the community and more involved in the NAACP.”

The Johnstown Branch established a youth council and held a youth membership drive, she said.

“The youth joined and started to participate in educational and social activities, again focusing on the mission of the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr.”

When it came time to selecting a keynote speaker for the King observance that was held Sunday at Mount Sinai Institutional Baptist Church, Conemaugh, the Johnstown Branch wanted someone who could instill the importance of King’s message in youths.

They decided on Leah P. Hollis, a Johnstown native and noted educator, researcher and lecturer.

Hollis also will lead a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service youth workshop from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at the Mount Sinai church, Perry-Thompson said.

“The goal of the workshop is for the youths to be able to highlight what their talents are, and how they can encourage others to carry on the goal of Martin Luther King Jr.,” said the senior officer for equity and inclusion at Pitt-Johnstown.

Perry-Thompson believes it is important to serve the community.

She is an active member at Christ Centered Community Church in Johnstown, a longtime member of the board of directors of the Women’s Help Center and a member of the Johnstown Symphony Chorus.

For her efforts, the Richland Township resident is the Person of the Week.

Alan G. Cashaw, president of the Johnstown Branch of the NAACP, said Perry-Thompson has spent decades helping others.

“Remembering and recognizing Martin Luther King’s contributions is one of the ways she helps folks in the community,” he said.

“She gets them to remember and understand how Dr. King contributed to their standing in social equality through his efforts and suffering in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Cashaw said also co-chairing Sunday’s remembrance program for King was the Rev. Richard Williams, pastor of Heavenly Sent Ministries in East Conemaugh.

Williams likewise has been working hard to keep King’s legacy alive, he said.

“He has built up quite a large community relationship with the Martin Luther King Jr. program,” Cashaw said.

Perry-Thompson and her husband, John Thompson, have a son, Eugene, who lives in North Carolina.

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