The dining area of the Portuguese American Club in Oak Bluffs was filled on Monday afternoon in celebration and remembrance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The annual luncheon is hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Chapter of the NAACP, and chapter president Erik Blake, who is also the Oak Bluffs chief of police, opened the event by welcoming the crowd. E. Jacqueline Hunt then led everyone in prayer before a banquet of fried chicken, mac and cheese, rice and beans, collard greens, cornbread and salad was served, courtesy of chefs Carleen Cordwell and Ben deForest.

Regional high school English teacher James Jennings spoke about his years teaching in New York city public schools. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The event this year focused on youth. After the meal, James Jennings, an English teacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, spoke about his previous experiences working in New York city public schools. Mr. Jennings said he noticed while he was teaching that the students who got in the most trouble, were ostracized, often voiceless and constantly bumping against the edges were, rather than bad students, the most talented and the most likely to be leaders.

“They just didn’t fit in the top-down information structure and the box of a classroom,” he said. “So, I thought I was doing something brilliant by listening to them and opening up a workshop where I coach them rather than teach them. If someone wants to be something as simple as a basketball player, some might laugh at them and show them statistics. I’ll actually try to link them with a coach and one of our mentees that went on to the NBA. So, it’s not just the structure of the workshop, it’s also my network.”

His message was echoed by keynote speaker LaSella Hall.

Mr. Hall, the president of the New Bedford NAACP branch and the associate director of the Frederick Douglass Unity House at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, spoke about what MLK Day means to him and the importance of leading with moral courage today.

“Today we are celebrating a king . . . But it wasn’t without a fight. It was Coretta and her children, and countless others that fought to make sure that King had a holiday,” Mr. Hall said.

E. Jacqueline Hunt receives a certificate of achievement. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“Presently, it is the holiday reserved for community service, service to others and acts of kindness,” he continued. “Yet, when King famously said, ‘everybody can be great because everybody can serve’ that’s not exactly what King is talking about. King was speaking about a different service to humanity. King was radical in his thinking of service. He may have been a pacifist, but make no mistake ladies and gentlemen he was no punk. Today’s pop culture and revisionist history would like to keep King in his own nightmare in 1963, to keep him at a dream. To make teachers, scholars and historians choose to leave King in D.C. at the March on Washington.

“For King, serving the poor, the left out, the looked down upon, the pushed to the fringes, the marginalized, the lowly, these were the very people King felt he was here to serve. That is why, to me, this day is all about serving the forgotten.”

Mr. Hall concluded his speech with a message to the younger generation: “Young people, seriously, we need you. For real, for real. Common has a song where the lyrics say: ‘It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy.’ We need your passion, drive and determination. We need you in this world. We will not continue to survive if we don’t wrestle with our generational issues. Young people need to be coachable because they have to learn the ways that the elders were able to make change. But the elders have to be teachable to the new tactics used to fight the current systematic structure. So, the more we come together and work together, the more we’ll be able to achieve these things.”

The luncheon concluded with awards given to Carrie Tankard, Ken Gross and E. Jacqueline Hunt. The crowd joined in singing Lift Every Voice and Sing before dispersing into a chilly but sunny afternoon in Oak Bluffs.