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LIJ Valley Stream remembers Martin Luther King Jr.

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Fifty years ago, a cook at North Shore University Hospital, told his supervisor that if the administration wasn’t planning to commemorate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, all of the chefs would call in sick.  Flustered, the supervisor, Robert McGhee, reached out to his colleague, Mattie Gray, and together they convinced the administrators to give them half an hour for a celebration.

The duo then worked all night to prepare for the memorial, splicing together tapes of King’s famous speeches, and by the time the cooks entered the event the next day, they heard the reverend give his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Some came in tears, some hugged each other because it was so serene,” Gray recounted at Northwell Health’s 50th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Jan. 17, “because it sounded like he was here in person.”

The annual event, held at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, featured performances by Uniondale High School’s Show Choir and Miri Ben-Ari, a Grammy Award-winning violinist. Gray was also honored for here work in creating the event, and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University sociology professor spoke about Martin Luther King’s impact on American society.

The entire program was broadcasted to all of Northwell’s hospitals, including Long Island Jewish Valley Stream, where employees said they try to live up to the reverend’s ideas every day.

The hospital has a very diverse staff that cares for a culturally diverse population on the border of Queens and Nassau, Medical Director Joseph Marino explained, and tries to treat each patient with respect regardless of the color of their skin. “We’re doing nothing but enacting Dr. King’s vision,” he said. “That’s who we embody as a staff.”

David Seligman, LIJ’s executive director, added that, like King, the staff tries to fight inequality, injustice and poverty, “and I think the work we do every day — opening our doors to the community to anyone who walks in, regardless of their ability to pay, of what their needs are — we really carry on that legacy.”

The staff is also highly involved in the community, Seligman noted. He said the employees constantly ask him what else they could do for the neighboring communities, and on Jan. 10, he and a team of more than 20 employees volunteered at the Mary Brennan INN in Hempstead. There, they separated into groups to organize the soup kitchen’s boutique, set up the pantry, organize clothing and serve those in need.

“I think it was humbling for a lot of us to recognize opportunities to make more of a connection to the community,” Seligman said, adding that he views the hospital as a community benefit organization.

And to further help those in need, Yessenia Williams, the nurse manager, is organizing a coat drive for the Mary Brennan INN. “We’re trying to keep Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream alive in making sure that we’re constantly speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves, who can’t provide for themselves,” she said, “and I think these are the crucial opportunities where we can step forward and provide whatever we can provide.”

New and gently-used coats can be dropped off at the hospital until the end of the month.