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Springfield marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a tribute to community leader Ronn Johnson

An annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Springfield, Massachusetts, focused on COVID-19's impact on the Black community. And the event honored community leader Ronn Johnson, who was president of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services and died Saturday at 63.

The event took place at the Community Music School and was live-streamed. Guest speakers talked about the need for more access to health care in Springfield.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker spoke, and said that while more work needs to be done, his administration's investment in a vaccine initiative was necessary.

“Through our vaccine equity initiative, we invested well over $40 million to promote access to the COVID vaccine in communities of color,” he said. “This initiative focused on breaking down barriers for these communities to access the vaccine with a particular focus on the 20 hardest-hit cities in Massachusetts, including among them Springfield.”

Baker, along with other officials including U.S. Rep. Ed Markey and state Sen. Eric Lesser, all urged residents to get the COVID vaccine.

The tribute to Johnson included a slideshow about him and a video clip of him giving a speech that referenced Dr. King. Johnson died from COVID last Saturday on what would have been King’s 93rd birthday.

“Dr. King taught that only love can overcome hatred, bitterness and fear,” Johnson said in the clip. “May his struggle for social transformation continue in this generation. May all people come to believe that with perseverance, we shall overcome.”

Johnson was remembered as a driven community leader who improved the lives of those in need. In a statement, Mayor Domenic Sarno said Johnson helped youths and families, and addressed disability and food insecurity issues especially for senior citizens.

Nirvani Williams covers socioeconomic disparities for New England Public Media, joining the news team in June 2021 through Report for America.
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