Beth Chandler Speaks at Former High School’s 19th Annual MLK Community Breakfast

Nearly 200 share warmth, fellowship, grits at 19th Branford MLK Community Breakfast

BRANFORD — Nearly 200 people warmed up the Branford High School cafeteria Monday morning with fellowship, a Southern-style breakfast — grits and all — and to celebrate the memory and inspiration of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Beth Chandler, speaker at the 19th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast, pointed out that a cohesive, united community such as the one King envisioned is protection against some of the more corrosive elements of society.

She urged those attending the community breakfast to reach out and cross the gulfs that divide them from people of other backgrounds, challenging people to get to know someone in the coming year who is from a background different from their own.

“Oppression thrives in fragmented communities,” said Chandler, 52, who grew up as an African American in Branford and went on to go to Harvard and Columbia Business School, play pro basketball in Austria and ultimately become president of the Boston YWCA, a job she currently holds.

“So why is it so hard for us to put humankind before self-interest?” she asked.

Chandler, a star volleyball and basketball player at Branford High who also was its 1984 senior class president, offered fond memories of the town.

But she also recalled that in the not-so-distant-past “my grandmother could only find work as a domestic and my mother couldn’t find work at all when she first moved to Branford when she married my father.”

And she recalled that as a child, she would sometimes come home crying because a kid at school called her “the n-word.”

But Chandler also noted that she went from there to being elected class president.

Those who attended the breakfast were entertained by the Branford High Music Makers, which sang “Lift Every Voice And Sing” and a medley of “We Shall Overcome” and Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”

The Music Makers later reprised “We Shall Overcome” as the crowd linked arms and sang along.

The breakfast, which this year was part of Branford’s 375th anniversary celebration, has roots that date back to in 1985 at St. Stephen’s A.M.E. Zion Church. Proceeds from the $10 adult admission fees will benefit the Fuel Bank and the Community Dining Room.

This was the breakfast’s first year in the high school after a number of years in St. Therese’s Roman Catholic Church on Leetes Island Road. As of last year, the event had outgrown the church, organizers said.

Chandler grew up on Bryan Road and is a member of the Branford Sports Hall of Fame. She is the daughter of Phoebe Chandler, who is head of the breakfast’s organizing committee. Her late father, Branford native Joseph Chandler, who died in 2011, was a basketball coach at Cheshire High School and was on the Branford Board of Education.

The breakfast was prepared with the assistance of students in the Branford High culinary arts program.

Article originally published on the New Haven Register website.