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This year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Galax was short but sweet, as guests who were filled with joy and hope shared inspirational stories of finding racial equality and defeating prejudice.
Several congregations have made a tradition of gathering at the Gospel Temple #2 church in the Oldtown community of West Galax, where they share stories of hope and strength with one another, and celebrate the holiday with songs and praise.
Event coordinator Sue Greene led the celebration with a story of her own, sharing what she has learned about her own race’s diversity over the past year. “We have come a mighty long way, and God has blessed us as people of color. If you travel abroad, you will see our race speaking French, Spanish, German...”
She shared that she and her husband had traveled to the Dominican Republic last year, and were pleasantly surprised when they were greeted by members of their own race, speaking fluent Spanish.
Then, when traveling to the Haitian islands, they found more history rooted in their race when they learned that the community had expanded to include a more diverse population. “The dolls on that island had no faces, because of the diversity on the island,’ she said.
Even today, Greene reminded those in attendance that some were still afraid of what the color of their skin means for them. For example, she spoke of baseball player Sammy Sosa, who bleached his skin prior to coming to America to play. “It shows that when you come out of your own country, you find there is still prejudice that needs to be addressed.”
Galax Vice Mayor Willie Greene, who gave the audience a brief update about the city, asked for the community’s help in making Galax a better place. “If you need help, please ask us, because a lot of the time, with politicians like me, if you don’t talk to them they think everything is fine.”
Hilda Tucker of Rooftop of Virginia Community Action Program spoke about the organization’s many programs, including Head Start and Early Head Start, affiliations with P.U.S.H. Ministries and God’s Storehouse Soup Kitchen, Section 8 housing and the Rooftop Craft Shop.
Teacher Dionne Tucker spoke for the city’s school system, and of her continued determination to make sure all of her students reach their full potential. “We need to nurture responsibility [with our students], and teach them that you do what it takes, end of story,” she said. Instead of texting or goofing off with friends, as she sees in her classroom often, she stressed to the youth to keep their eyes forward, listen and learn.
Instead of looking at education as an annoyance, she said, look at it for what it is: an opportunity that younger generations weren’t offered.
In the past, people of color were denied school, then later were made to walk up and down steep hills to get there. “Now you have a big, heated school bus, one that pulls up — in most cases — right up to your door. All you have to do is get ready and get on it.”
Evangelist Gloria Richardson offered a look back through history, and reminded the congregation that hate will only be quelled with love and acceptance, not revenge or by holding grudges. “We have been blessed, but some of that came on the backs of others, like Martin Luther King Jr.,” she said. “Our theme today is love, and let that remind us that we should show no animosity in the way they treated us. We must let brotherly love continue.”
She quoted Hebrews 13:2 from the Bible: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Love your enemies, she said, and let God handle the rest.
From the audience, Vera Brown spoke of how she has overcome her fear of being noticed by others. “When I was younger, I wore glasses. I was called four-eyes,” she said. The color of her skin, she added, was another feature that made her feel different and separated from her peers.
“I didn’t want people to see me. But now, by the grace of God I am in front of you today... and I could not be prouder of my skin.”
A number of church groups offered to sing for the event, including McMillian Ministries, Oldtown Baptist, Faith Tabernacle, Mount Zion, Oliver’s Chapel and Heavenly Voices.
To conclude the event, the congregations were offered an opportunity to give back and help continue a legacy of success. The churches took up an offering for Lawrence Parsons, a student from Galax who is attending college for basketball at Ohio Christian University. According to the group, Parsons has been struggling financially to cover expenses while studying at the university.
“Thankfully I was at the right place at the right time,” said Greene, who heard about Parsons’ need from other local citizens.
It was added that Parsons has no idea that the offering was being asked from the community. “This community needs to help... he may not be part of your church, or part of your group, but if he fails, so do we,” he said.
The offering plate was passed around and filled at the end of service, as the final groups sang words of praise to fill the church and inspire generosity. At the end of the service, the offerings totaled $121.