UNION — A call for youth to not let popular culture tell them who they are, their elders to get more involved with their youth’s schools and in preparing them for the future, and for churches to come together with other groups to stand for liberty against injustice, was part of Monday’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration.
Monday was the national holiday honoring the life, work, message, and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the preeminent leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
In honor and recognition of the holiday and in celebration of King and his life’s work and message, the Union County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held its “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration” at Sims Middle School Monday evening.
The featured speaker for the evening was James Starnes, Vice President of School Improvement Board, Kennan High School, in Columbia, whose words were in keeping with the theme of the event, “Justice and Equality: Making An Assessment of the Dream.”
Starnes began by pointing out that, even today, in America there are still millions of people who hate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and what it stands for and are actively working to silence, disenfranchise, and make and keep powerless those that who believe in it. He said because of this those who believe in what Dr. King and his message stand for must continue to stand up for liberty in the face of injustice despite all the challenges they will face in doing so.
Part of his address was especially directed at young people who he urged to take steps to keep themselves alive. Starnes reminded them that as they travel there will be times when they are stopped by law enforcement. He said that while most members of law enforcement are decent people trying to do a very difficult job and go home at the end of the day to their families, there are those who will not see the young people they stop as human beings. Starnes said that if they ever find themselves in such a situation they should answer the questions asked of them even if they don’t seem right and focus on getting home. If there is a problem in that situation, Starnes urged the young people to not make an issue of it at that time but to instead report it the next day.
Starnes also called on youth to show respect for their elders and to help those who need help wherever and whenever possible. He also called on them to invite their pastors and the members of the congregations of their churches to their schools and he urged those pastors and congregations to take them up on those invitations. Starnes pointed out that concern for youth by their churches should never be confined to worship in church on Sundays but continue throughout the week including during school. He called on the pastors and congregations of the churches to get involved with their young people’s schools.
In addition to getting involved in their young people’s schools, Starnes urged adults to take those young people to board meetings and council meetings and prepare them so that one day they will be ready to fill the seats on those boards and councils.
Starnes also addressed young people about the importance of not allowing popular culture, especially the entertainment industry, tell them who they are. He pointed out that, for example, in comedies featuring black families, nine times out of ten the situations depicted have a lot of negativity which can unduly and detrimentally influence and impact a young person’s image of themself.
One the things that Starnes urged young people not to do is let anyone tell them they are weak or lazy. Starnes reached back into the history of African-America to the slave era when the ancestors of today’s youth were brought from Africa in horrible conditions, many dying along the way, and then, upon arriving in America, being subjected to the utmost brutality and exploitation. He said that African-Americans survived this because they were not weak and, furthermore, he pointed out that people seeking to exploit others for their labor do not seek out the lazy.
With such a heritage of ancestors who proved themselves stronger than the oppression they faced, Starnes said young people should never believe for an instant someone who tries to convince them they are weak and lazy.
In his address, Starnes also looked at the work of Dr. King, pointing out that while his “I Have A Dream” speech is the best known of his words, the are not his only ones. He pointed out that even those who oppose what King stood for pay some form of lip service to the ideas of equality and freedom he put forward in that speech even though they are completely opposed to equality and freedom for those groups they hate.
While the “I Have A Dream” speech is the most famous of King’s words, Starnes said his words expressing his thinking in, for example, his “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” are as pertinent today as they were when he wrote them back in the 1950s. Starnes pointed out that King, a minister, both defended and criticized the church, stating in his defense of it that it had made the world a much better place and that he would have hated to see what the world would have been like without it.
Even as he defended the church, however, Starnes said King was critical of it as well for having lost what he called the “prophetic voice” of speaking out against injustice of all kinds. Starnes said that King believed that the church must regain its prophetic voice and once again with zeal speak out against injustice or it would become nothing more than a social club with no moral authority.
Starnes also referenced King’s “A Knock At Midnight” speech as a call for the church to come together with other groups to do something about changing the status quo. He said the greatest thing in society today is the church and it must come together with others for the knock at midnight which he said is the time between darkness and dawn. Starnes said that dawn represents when the church comes together with organizations such as the NAACP to bring about change in America and pursue liberty in the face of injustice.
For more about Monday’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration see Saturday’s edition of The Union Times and visit online on our webpage (www.uniondailytimes.com) and our Facebook page.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.