Singing King's Praises — with video

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Churches host annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration

By Brian Funk, Editor


The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of racial and social equality continues to inspire decades after his passing.
Local church congregations came together on Jan. 15 to celebrate the Civil Rights leader's lasting influence.
The theme of the annual event — held this year at Gospel Temple in the Oldtown community in  West Galax — was "Born To Inspire."


To the young people in the packed church, speakers offered encouragement to follow dreams, hold on to faith and live the dream that King and others fought and died for.
After children read from King's speeches, event organizer Sue Greene beamed. "Those words make you want to hold your head up and put your shoulders back, and know that you are somebody and you are from somewhere — we come from princes and kings in Africa."
Greene, one of the first black students who attended an integrated Galax High School, said she and her generation were not taught that sense of history and self-worth.
There was a time — not that long ago — when African-Americans could not go into Bolen's Drugstore in downtown Galax to get a drink, one speaker recalled. There was a time blacks had to sit in the balcony and use a separate entrance at the Rex Theater.
Things have changed for the better, Greene said, and young people now know that the black experience goes beyond slavery and segregation. To that end, a local group organized a trip for youth to visit Egypt last year.
Greene later introduced Dionne Tucker, a government teacher at GHS known for motivating her students.  Greene called Tucker "our teacher of the year, every year."
Tucker had some inspiring words of her own, asking young people to consider their purpose and maintain good character. "Who are you when no one is looking? Galax went to a state football championship, but I ask my athletes in class — who are you off the football field?"
Tucker said she is her senior students' "worst nightmare" because she pesters them about their post-high school plans. "I ask them — are you filling out your financial aid forms? Are you applying to colleges? Are you taking honors classes? Are you taking your SATs? Are you passing your SOLs?"
Even elementary school is not too early to begin planning your future, she said. "Be the best you can be. Decide what you want to do with your life. You can do anything. You can be president — it is achievable."
Other speakers said King should inspire young people to serve their communities, either as volunteers or by seeking public office.
Helen Kyle, a Galax School Board member and former member of Galax City Council, challenged parents to get involved with their children's education. She noted that one of King's crusades was for access to quality education for all. "It was one of the things that mattered to him. He was willing to march for it, to fight for it and to die for it. Does it matter to you?"
Galax Vice Mayor Willie Greene urged members of the black community to seek public office, noting that he and Kyle couldn't serve forever.
He noted that he has been on council for 16 years and was the first African-American to serve in public office in the city. Kyle was the second.
"Wouldn't it be great if next year at this time I could introduce the next black council member?" the vice mayor said.
He also recommended that people become informed about proposed changes to voting rights laws, which threaten to overturn a requirement that a locality must have its election procedure changes approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. The law was enacted originally to make sure blacks had access to voting. The vice mayor said several Southwest Virginia localities have petitioned to be excluded from the law.
Connie Bryson, who recently retired after 20 years in the paving and parking lot striping business in Galax, encouraged the younger generation to become entrepreneurs. "You can make it," he said. "If I made it back then when things were rough, you can make it now."
The event featured performances by several gospel choirs, including Faith Tabernacle, Oldtown Baptist Church, Mount Zion Holiness Church, New Gospel Temple, River Hill Baptist Church and Emmanuel.
After one rousing song, Sue Greene clapped heartily and nodded. "We look at slavery and we wondered, 'How did they make it?'"
"That's how they made it," she said, looking at the choirs. "With a song and a shout!"
Closing the event was Evangelist Gloria Richardson, who remembers King's death as a child, though she was too young to put it in perspective then.
Today, though, King's life is a lesson that anyone can make a difference.
In the Bible, King David went from a lowly shepherd to leader of Israel, Richardson said. It's not just the rich and powerful who can be inspirations.
"We were all born to inspire somebody. God has put each and every one of us on this Earth for a purpose. Even in you, there are great and mighty works."


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