“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
The 25th National Observance of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Event was held on January 17, 2011at the Kings Park International Church in Durham. This religious celebration is organized by the Durham Martin Luther King Steering Committee each year. This year’s theme was “Holding onto the Dream: Living in Hope, Faith, and Reconciliation.” Celebration activities focused on honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other individuals that were influence by King’s lifetime works. Presentation of a commissioned painting, songs, poetic speeches, community service awards, individual contributions, and scholarships to local high school seniors were part of the celebration. King is known as an American iconic clergyman, activist, and example of extraordinary leadership in the African American civil rights movement who also tried to instill an overall nonviolent approach. His lifelong quest to find solutions to complicated social, judicial, and moral issues is hallmarked in history. The National Observance on January 17 was not to lament on this daunting concern, but rather, to take a moment to reflect, reassess, and remember the chain of events of our American history to learn from mistakes, to understand the profound impact of King’s journey and efforts, and to celebrate his achievements that continued after his death on April 4, 1968.
The church auditorium served as the gathering place of local and area politicians, spiritual leaders, congressmen, senators, and members from difference churches and denominations. The groups of people were influence by King in many ways and the evening showcased examples of the positive imprints which affected their lives.
The Durham Martin Luther King Youth Choir and the Durham Community Martin Luther King Celebration Choir were a highlight of praise and celebration. In the center of were the white-shirted youths, and on each side, the “grown ups” stood next to them like strong supportive bookends as they sang from their heart and soul. The youth choir presented talent that could rival American Idol winners like Lakeeda Johnson, who sang a powerful version of “Never Lost My Praise.” Then Jorden Rosser, another young talent, stood and sang “He Is Able,” and was accompanied by the adult voices of the Celebration Choir. The combination of all the voices ignited energy and led the audience to clap with the rhythm. The powerful performance ended with a simple verse with an innocent and honest tone in Rosser’s voice: “Don’t give up on the Lord, He won’t give up on you….He is able”.
Guest Speaker Reverend Clifford Jones gave an engaging and thought-provoking speech. Clifford A. Reverend Jones has served as Senior Minister of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte since 1983. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Maryland State College, and his the Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He received the degree of Doctor of Ministry from Boston School of Theology in Boston, MA and has studied at Regents Park Collegein Oxford, Englandand at Baptist Theological Seminary, in Ruschlikon, Switzerland. A community activist in race relations and education, he serves on local boards such as Crisis Ministry, A Child’s Place, and The National Conference for Community and Justice, and is most instrumental on the steering committee for the art exhibit Like a Prayer. This exhibit was an intertwined collection of art from the African American and Jewish cultures in support of diversity.
Rev. Jones began with an inclusive welcome of the diverse audience and encouragements for the scholarship recipients and accolades for the youth choir performances. Then he said, “I’m tried of singing ‘We Shall Overcome.” He swayed and quietly sang, ‘We shall overcome …someday,” then asked the audience, “When is someday?” His statement could be viewed as controversial, and maybe judged as inappropriate sarcasm to the visceral song that correlated to the suffering, pain, and the perseverance of hope during the Civil Rights Movement. But the interpretation will depend on the listener’s frame of reference, their personal background, their perceptions, and the opportunity to hear all of his speech. The core theme of Jones’ rhetorical questions was a reality check, and questioning, “What is the progress of King’s vision and the sacrificial efforts?” and Jones asked the audience, “Did it (Civil Rights Movement) make a difference in our quality of life?”
As his speech continued, Jones provided data of current economic and social trends, and sang the verse of “We Shall Overcome,” and asked again, “Why bring it up?” His potent thoughts regarding his views seemed to focus on his statements: “Don’t lose your heritage. Don’t forget who you are. And in the 21st century, don’t get shackled by materialism.” This message is relevant not just for African Americans, as Jones stated, but for all people: “We are the same whether you are a Pope or a pauper.”
Jones summarized King’s eternal virtues and beliefs and how King implemented them through his actions, powerful communication skills, and the sacrifice of his life which is a reminder and answer to Jones’ repetitive question, “Why bring it up?” “It was about three things,” explained Jones, “Faith and not to give up on it, the principles of love, and eternal hope.” He added, “You do this by marching, sharing, singing, and worshiping together.”
Asking again Jones’ question, “Why bring it up” after all these years that have passed since King’s death? It is understandable that we tend to forget painful memories. But we need to bring it up again and again to remind us of the fundamental virtues for all of humanity throughout borders where inequality, poverty, racism, and discrimination still exist. Being aware is the first step, and then we hope it generates enough compassion and social consciousness to initiate action to help find solutions to “make a difference in the quality of life” for all people, and answer Jones’ question “Did it (Civil Rights Movement) make a difference in our quality of life?” with a resounding “Yes!”