(Photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
These themes were recurring and interwoven throughout comments made by those speaking at the 22nd holiday celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Travelers Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Sikeston Monday.
Guest speaker Dr. Kenneth Holloway, pastor of Pilgrim's Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Lilbourn, opened by commenting that those attending were almost all older people.
"I was wondering: where are all the children? School is out," he said.
Holloway said he was 15 years old when King was assassinated. "It changed my life," he said. "It made me want to do something better with my life."
"The work goes on. ... We have increased our education, jobs have opened up," Holloway said, "but we've gotten away from where and what we started."
Holloway said because God has been "taken out of the equation" things are not going as well as they should.
"They've taken prayer out of schools and they've replaced prayer with a gun," he said.
Holloway also said people should be "finding reasons to better ourselves and not making excuses."
He spoke of the need to look forward, not back, while at the same time not forgetting where we came from.
"There is a process in order to get progress," Holloway continued. "You have to apply yourself."
Holloway also discussed the importance of continuing to be non-violent.
King's dream, Holloway said, "was for everybody. This is not just a black holiday."
The importance of taking personal responsibility was also emphasized.
"Until you change, things will not change for you," Holloway said, and explained that includes "accepting the challenge that is before you."
"The dream will never die as long as the dream is still dreamed," Holloway said in closing, adding that as long as someone keeps talking about, teaching and standing up for King's dream, it will not die.
Also during the celebration, Herman Gardner, pastor of the Travelers Rest Missionary Baptist Church, described MLK Day as "an occasion we come to celebrate a man who has done so much for our lives" and King as "a man who has served the benefit of all men."
Ronald Williams, pastor of the New Deliverance Church, said things are happening even today that would not be if not for the work of King.
Williams recalled as a child having to go to the side door of a restaurant to be served; separate "colored" and "white" bathrooms at the hospital; and not being able to stay at hotels along the highways when traveling.
"He opened up the door for all men to have a chance," he said. "The dream is still going on. ... He didn't do it for black folk ... he did it for mankind."
Williams said: "We've come a long way but we have yet a long way to go. .... We're not going to get there holding hatred in our hearts. ... 2008 is a new beginning ... I think it's time that we as a people, that we as a nation come together and do things the way God intended."
City Manager Doug Friend, representing city government, said he would like to see future MLK Day ceremonies so well attended that they are held in the Sikeston Field House.
Andy Comstock, representing Sikeston Public Schools, discussed the "Closing the Gap" program by which Sikeston School officials hope to bring minority test scores up and presented encouraging statistics that indicate the program is working.