Close to 30 participants braved the cold temperatures to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday with an annual march through downtown Walnut Cove followed by a more heavily attended service in Rising Star Baptist Church.
“We have been doing this since the year they made Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a holiday in North Carolina,” said Stokes County NAACP President Rev. Gregory Hairston. “I was a senior in high school when the news came across that he had been assassinated. He spoke to the depth of the heart about the injustice and the rights that were being denied.”
The annual event organized by the Christian Awareness Program (CAP) brings community members of all ages and races together to remember King’s teachings and to provide guidance for continuing to improve the community.
This year the program focused on following the right leadership, encouraging school-aged children to write essays on the topic. Participants included C’nia Hairston, Tatum Miller, Calvin Lowery Jr., Camille McEachern, Mia Nicole Wood, Jhaiyana Johns, Nigel McEachern, Deja Welch and Jayden Welch.
The program also featured selections from a youth choir and praise dancing by United in Christ and Shakera Goolsby.
United in Christ’s Elijah Evans said their performance of the song “Glory” from the movie “Selma” underscored the continued need to work together for equality.
“It really puts it out there how far we have come and how far we have to go,” he said. “It really speaks about how the only way to get through this is to come together. I don’t have the same skin color as some of you, but Martin Luther King was my brother in Christ. The only way to fix this problem is if we come together in Jesus Christ.”
Featured speaker Mia Franklin, a freshman at Winston-Salem State University who grew up in the CAP program, said King provided a great example of how to be a leader and challenged the entire audience to consider how they could each be leaders themselves.
“Martin had a dream so big and believed in it so much that it came to life,” she said. “Blacks and whites and people of all races are able to go to church together and praise the Lord in unity. The United States has an African-American president. These realities were influenced by the changes Martin made in his reality. What is your reality?
“Every single person in this room is a leader,” she added. “You may not have realized how much power you have to impact the future. The first step is to believe that you can do it. You have the power to change the world. You have the power to exceed the expectations you have for yourself. A leader is someone who faces the problem and is involved with creating a solution.”
Hairston noted that much of society has has changed since King gave his “I have a dream” speech, but warned that the fight was not over.
“His dream has not been completely fulfilled, but we are still working on it,” added Hairston, while lighting a candle in remembrance of King . “I light this candle in remembrance of a man who was willing to go the extra mile that will have a right to go in the front door and not the back door, to ride at the front of the bus and not the back.”
But Hairston said a key victory of the civil rights movement, voting rights, was still under attack.
“It is a right that the people laid down their lives for in the 60s for us to have the right to go and vote,” he said, noting that North Carolina’s new voter ID law challenged some of the victories achieved in the 60s and adding that the local NAACP chapter was dedicated to registering and getting to the polls as many eligible voters as possible this year. “We can do this together. Let’s unite. Let’s make this our year. We made some changes on the town board because you spoke out with numbers. Let’s speak out across the state of North Carolina and tell them enough is enough. This is how you can honor Martin Luther King, by registering and voting.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.