LAURINBURG — Among the songs sung by participants in Monday’s Scotland County NAACP Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march, and above recordings of the late civil rights leader blaring from speakers, not a complaint could be heard, even on a two-mile walk in barely 40-degree temperatures.
After all, as former NAACP president and former Laurinburg police chief Robert Malloy pointed out, a little cold weather is no excuse for failing to observe what cost so much to realize.
“God himself will take care of you, as he did with the marchers years ago, and it is now available to you to march without the dogs and to march without being assaulted and to even march without being killed,” said Malloy, who served as master of ceremonies in a program at Bright Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, where Monday’s march concluded.
Speaker Henry Pankey, a member of the Scotland High School class of 1970 and 2012 N.C. Association of Educators Assistant Principal of the Year, focused on perseverance in fighting for justice — even, and especially, when that isn’t the easy option.
“Martin Luther King talked about how you get tired sometimes, you get frustrated sometimes, you want to give up sometimes, you feel like you can’t go on,” Pankey said. “Jesus Christ said I am with you always. I will be with you now, today, and forever. I will never forsake you.”
Pankey also alluded to King’s discussions of justice and its necessity for all in a truly peaceful world.
“Where there is no justice in this world, there will never ever be peace,” said Pankey. “If you want peace in your classrooms and you want peace in your public schools, then you’d better have justice in your classrooms. I want to be clear: if you want peace for white people, you’d better have justice for black people. If you want peace for the rich, you’d better have justice for the poor. If you want peace in the White House, you’d better have justice in the projects.”
Running this year for the Democratic nomination to the ballot for N.C. Superintendent of Schools, Pankey pledged, if elected, to discard the Common Core curriculum and standardized testing.
“We have geniuses walking around thinking they’re stupid,” he said. “Let me make it clear: there’s nothing wrong with black children. We have black boys in alternative schools and in-school suspensions that could build you a computer today.”
Scotland County NAACP President Herman Tyson and vice-president Tony Spaulding both exhorted the 250 people present at Bright Hopewell to live King’s dream by dedicating themselves each day to service. Tyson acknowledged that such an effort may mean putting daytime television on hold.
“When you leave here today, DVR The Young and the Restless, DVR the soap operas,” he said. “Go out and be of service to someone. Go by the rest home. Do something that when you look yourself in the mirror tonight you can say: I am somebody, I made a difference to the dream.”
The Monday evening MLK Community Celebration at St. Andrews University also touched on themes of perseverance and service.
“This year I’ve been reminded again of his words of extraordinary determination and persistence, especially during the worst of times when he had grave doubts about his ability to hold the civil rights movement together in the face of a country that was, by and large, unwilling to change and resistant to his message,” said SAU President Paul Baldasare.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Hise Gibson, the program speaker, chronicled the extensive contributions of African-Americans to the nation’s military history beginning with the Revolutionary War — even though they were not included in the promise of equality for all men — through the Buffalo Soldiers who served on the frontier following the Civil War and the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.
“Though our army still has its challenges in terms of race … I think we get it right more than any other institution in America,” said Gibson. “African-American soldiers have served at every level of command, from platoon leader to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
Racial discrimination in the United States Armed Forces was abolished in 1948. Gibson characterized military service as the ultimate equalizer.
“Men and women from all over the country, from all different backgrounds, from all different walks of life leave their path behind, put on the uniform, and from that day forward they’re all equal.”
The program’s master of ceremonies, actor, storyteller, and former U.S. Air Force officer Sonny Kelly, performed an original story, addressed to his young son, depicting contemporary racial disparities.
“Son, I need you to be the best today,” Kelly said. “Not just your best, I need you to be better than everyone around you. I want you to be smarter, I want you to work harder, I want you to be more attentive, more obedient, kinder and gentler than anyone else in your classroom.
“You see, some people will only ever see you as a black boy, and to some people a black boy is dangerous. To some people, a black boy is violent, Son, to some people a black boy is stupid.”
St. Andrews’ annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service brought together some 300 students, who picked up litter on campus, cleaned the university theater, library, and art rooms, and went off-campus to help with projects at Camp Monroe, Church and Community Services, and the Storytelling and Arts Center of the Southeast.
“We did follow Dr. King’s challenge: ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?,’” said SAU communications professor James Henery. “Our answer today was St. Andrews is part of a greater community whose calling it is to go beyond self and serve.”
In Maxton, attendees at a King Day program at R. B. Dean Elementary School gym were asked to contemplate their dreams in light of the civil rights leader’s seminal “I Have A Dream” speech.
Although sponsored by the group Seniors Aging Gratefully, Enthusiastically and Spiritually, the program focused on children, with student speakers and music provided by the Townsend Middle School Band.
“Today is not just an ordinary day,” said Ebony Green, an eighth grader at Townsend Middle School. “Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy and dream. Dr. King was not an ordinary man, he was grateful, inspiring and he had a big dream for all of us.”
Ebony then sang “Grateful” by gospel singer Hezekiah Walker.
The next speaker, John Bethea, a senior at Early College High School in Lumberton, had a question of his own for the crowd.
“Do you have a dream,” he asked. “If you have a dream, raise your hand. If you have a dream, stand up for me. Now I am not talking about the dreams you have at night while you’re sleeping. I am not talking about the day dreams you are having right now while you are looking at me.”
Bethea, who plans to become a nurse practitioner, said he is motivated by the chance to serve those around him.
“I’m not doing this for money, I’m doing this for you. I care about y’all. I’m going to change your life,” he said.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.