By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Prayers, song and calls to keep the dream of equality and understanding alive marked a special celebration Monday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The service held at Lewis Chapel Baptist Church West was live-streamed on the church’s Facebook page, with only the speakers and musicians in the church building as a cautionary measure due to the pandemic.
Hoke County Commission Chairman Harry Southerland, and Hoke and Scotland County State Rep. Garland Pierce took part in the service. Guest pastors offered prayers and words of support.
Southerland offered some of King’s thoughts expressed in his writings and speeches. “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve,” and “If you can’t fly, run, if you can’t run, walk, if you can’t walk, crawl, but whatever you do, keep moving,” Southerland quoted.
The commission chairman reflected on King’s life, cut short by assassination April 4, 1968.
“Dr. King left us at 39 years old. What I realize is it’s not how long you live that matters, it’s how you live. For 39 years, Dr. King lived a grand life,” Southerland said.
Pastor Andrew Sutton spoke to the late civil rights leader’s legacy in the faith community.
“I believe we in the church are called to be different, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he modeled this,” he said. “He modeled this in the way that he lived, he modeled this in the way that he spoke, he modeled this in the way that he engaged others. There was a truth that he lived up to, and that truth was a person, that person was Jesus Christ.”
Pierce, also a military veteran and pastor of Bright Hopewell Baptist Church in Wagram, offered the guest address. He said that although some have grown weary “with the challenge of the dream,” not to give up the work.
“We must pause to take an inventory of where we are now and look at the responsibilities we have now, and look at the challenge of the dream,” Pierce said. “We’ve got some great young people, but we have far too many who have not come to the realization that they can make a difference. We cannot allow ourselves to give up on the future of our people. We must make a way for our young men and women to want to serve our communities…we have got to reach back and grab somebody and train them to do what they need to do.”
Several of the speakers also commented on the events January 6 in the national’s capitol. In his remarks, Southerland recalled another of King’s often-quoted sayings.
“I thought about all the hatred and all the darkness that was there when I witnessed people ransacking the nation’s capitol and actually squeezing the life almost out of one of the officers…What I realize is another of Dr. King’s quotes when he said, ‘darkness will not drive out darkness, only light can do that.’ Hopefully if we stay with God and stay in a place like this right here, we will always have the light,“ Southerland said.
The participants joined in singing “Lift Every Voice,” and Pastor Nick Purcell offered a celebration of prayer.
Senior Pastor C. Stackhouse emphasized the message of continuing to strive to work toward a better world.
“This isn’t just about remembering what he did. If we’re not willing to do something now – the work is not over,” he said. “There’s work to do, so I encourage all of you to get busy, because we can make this world a better place.”
The Hoke County NAACP, Maggie’s Outreach and Hoke County Ministerial Alliance held a small outdoor celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday at the stage by the county library on Main Street in Raeford.
The event was a special moment to 12-year-old Shani Strickland, a student at Rockfish Christian Academy, who read an essay she wrote on the topic of “Chaos or community?”
“In 2021, as we look to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we also look at the tings that are going on around us, chaos. We are asked the question, where we go from here? Chaos or community. To ‘go’ means to move, and a person’s turn to use or do something. Clearly, ‘go’ tells me I must move forward, I cannot stay here,” Strickland wrote in her essay. “It also tells me that it is my turn, our turn, to use the lessons and examples of people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in moving forward. This question has me thinking about myself, the next generation who will rise to be an example, learning from our past and to make service to humanity our goal, as we go from here.”
Strickland concluded in her writing, “As we go from here, we cannot forget the lessons we have learned, nor can we forget those who died in service for, and to others, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We must take their wisdom and work, and use it to help our communities, our fellow men, this is a call for the next generation. It is our turn to go, to stand up, to do what we must, to make the world a better place, to choose community over chaos. God gave us abilities, skills, opportunities, and choices, let us use them for good.”
The outdoor ceremony was held Monday afternoon and attended by participants from the three sponsoring organizations, and several local elected officials.