LAURINBURG — Messages of unity and love went out on Friday in a pair of Scotland County events held to celebrate the 87th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Keon Grant, a Scotland High School graduate and audio engineering student at SAE Institute in Atlanta, called for universal empathy and support of others in good times and in bad in an address at the NAACP Youth Council’s 20th annual King celebration.
“We all can enjoy the fruits of the labor, but who’s willing to help the person that’s laboring?” Grant asked. “When Dr. King marched, he had a congregation of many people behind him supporting him. I can’t march alone up here; nor can you, neither can you, no one in here can.”
Grant recalled the news of George Zimmerman’s 2013 acquittal of second-degree murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin, which marred his 18th birthday with feelings of hurt and disappointment.
“That could have been me, that could have been your child,” he said. “See, when problems don’t hit home we tend to turn our back and walk away from it and say oh, I’m glad I’m not in that situation.
“We lack trust in others, we lack unification, we lack that consideration of one another, and most importantly we lack respect and love for one another, and that’s why we tend to see that boy that’s doing wrong and just walk past.”
That trust and consideration, Grant said, should be extended without judgment — a point he illustrated with his stories of being shot by a cousin’s friend at age 11 and of becoming a father at age 18.
“All I wanted to do was breathe,” he said, relating his near-death experience to universal struggles. “That’s all we want to do: as a people, we all have our own problems, we all have our own afflictions. In those moments when we’re stressed out, and the circumstances and all the odds are against us, all we want to be able to do is just to breathe.”
Before Grant’s remarks, members of the youth council paid narrative tribute to those who have helped to deconstruct racial barriers as activists, athletes, and artists, such as Aletha Gibson, Dorothy Dandridge, and Phyllis Wheatley. Detailing the finer points of the 8th and 26th Amendments, Dweller Parker was Barack Obama in fine form as a constitutional law professor.
“The purpose of this celebration is to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the unity that he brought to our nation,” said council president Octavia McLean, also dedicating the evening to the Divine Nine, a group of nine historically African-American Greek fraternities and sororities established in 1930.
“We salute Dr. King as well as the Divine Nine because they have all had a major impact on our community, on our state, and on our nation.”
Earlier on Friday, nearly 60 people gathered at the Wagram Active Living Center to reflect on King’s perspectives on economics, education, politics, and social involvement — all of which remain areas of unresolved tension.
“We are here now to focus on the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King,” said the Rev. Dr. Johnny W. Gorham. “His truth is marching on. Why don’t you look at your neighbor and say his truth is marching on, for the dream still lives in our hearts.”
Gorham is pastor of Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Raeford, former Wagram mayor, and retired Scotland County Schools agriculture teacher. A resident of Scotland County for more than 50 years, Gorham reflected on progress made since he moved here, including the elevation of African-Americans to elected office and transition to a single county high school.
“When I came here there was an Indian school, there was an African-American school, there was a white school, but thanks be to God we have worked together and we must continue to fight for the right to education,” he said.
“During the early integration, we held ourselves together and I think we need to be thankful for the way we worked together to consolidate our schools.”
Gorham also cautioned against sentiments such as the widespread antipathy toward immigrants and non-Christians, issuing a reminder that “everybody is God’s somebody.”
“We must get away from this creed of nationality, for God created all of us from one,” he said. “All of us must come together and work as one; if we work separate, we are divided, and we cannot divide ourselves for this world is wide open for us.”
Musical selections “Trouble of the World,” “Amazing Grace,” and “A Change is Gonna Come” were performed by Diane Love, Dorothy Swindell, and Billy Frank Thomas, Sr.
State Rep. Garland Pierce and center committee members John Lewis and Peggy Smith also spoke at the event, charging the audience with carrying King’s dream forward by continuing to transcend race, class, and social stature.
“By working and playing together, we learn that we all have the same hopes and dreams for our children,” said Smith.
“Wagram is not perfect. Scotland County is not perfect. Certainly the old beautiful North State is not perfect. But if we each resolve, in our own sphere of influence, to love one another and respect one another, the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King will continue to live on.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.