UNION — The Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday should not be a day off but a day of activism that honors the life and legacy of Dr. King according to the guest speaker at Monday’s King Celebration sponsored by the Union County Branch of the NAACP.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal holiday celebrated the third Monday of each January. It honors the life, work, message, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the preeminent Civil Rights leader of the 1950s and 1960s.
In Union County, the Union County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People holds a “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration” in commemoration of Dr. King. This year, the celebration was held Monday evening at Sims Middle School and featured an address by guest speaker Mr. Willie E. Jeffries, an alumnus of Sims High School who over the course of his career has served as Head Football Coach at SC State University and Wichita State University. Jeffries was the first African-American hired as Head Football Coach at a Division I school (Wichita State) in NCAA Football history.He has been inducted into the Union County High School Hall of Fame, the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame, and the College Football Hall of Fame; was recently named Head Coach Emeritus at SC State University; and is featured in the new African-American Museum in Washington, DC.
During his address, Jeffries asked all those who were under the age of 25 to stand. Five stood and Jeffries called upon them to spread the word that across the nation their generation is going to be a great generation because of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Jeffries said that “we need more of you here, we want you to join the NAACP.” He said that by joining the NAACP they will become part of a team and, drawing on his experience as a coach, pointed out that “a team is better and stronger” than an individual alone and that “nothing can produce a winner like a little teamwork will.”
Jeffries pointed out that “we are here to honor one of the greatest men to ever walk the earth.” He said that while Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a holiday, King “did not want his holiday to be a day off, he wanted it to be a day on.” By a day on, Jeffries said that King wanted people to go do things to improve their community and their nation such as mentoring young people.
“He wanted you to help the youth of your community,” Jeffries said, reiterating that King Day “is not a day off, it is a day on.”
Jeffries praised those present for Monday’s celebration for their presence and called on them to engage in the kind of activism and involvement in their community that would honor King’s memory. He again called for the mentoring of the youth of the community, the students in the schools, and to work to solve the the problems in the community and to work to help humanity the same way King did who he said sacrificed his life doing so.
Looking to the future, Jeffries said that in mentoring young people, there should be a particular emphasis on urging them to be careful about the company they keep in life. He said that “the company you keep will decide your future.”
Jeffries also stressed the importance of personal commitment to excellence on the part of the young, a commitment that he said can enable them to succeed in life despite their circumstances.
“Stress to all the students that success has no zip code,” Jeffries said. “Your environment does not dictate your success. You can be what you work hard to be.”
Jeffries expressed confidence in the ability of the young to succeed in school and in life, especially if they receive the mentoring they need.
“All can fly to the sky of academic success,” Jeffries said. “Some just need a longer runway.”
In the end, however, Jeffries said it is up to the young to decide their future, decisions that will also affect the future of their community, their nation, and their world.
“You are our future, so work hard at what you do,” Jeffries said. “Don’t ever settle for number two. You strive for number one.”
A major part of the King Day celebration is the recitation of “The Litany of Commemoration of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” by those in attendance. The Litany celebrates the life and ministry of Dr. King, putting him and his message in the context of men and women called forth in every generation to speak out against injustice and oppression. The leader of this year’s recitation of The Litany was Ms. Sallie B. Bowser.
Leader: In the grand order of the universe, our Lord God wisely has chosen men and women to serve Him in each era. Such a servant of our Lord God was Martin Luther King Jr., whose birth we now commemorate. We are thankful for the life of this 20th century prophet of freedom, who joined the prophets on history in the cry:
Congregation: In the name of freedom, let my people go.
Leader: Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned the ultimate freedom: the freedom achieved in struggle; the freedom reached in brotherhood; the freedom fired by the dream of a man; the freedom inspired by the lot of a people; the freedom free of hate; the freedom full of love.
Congregation: In the name of freedom of love, let my people go.
Leader: He reminded us that the spirit of man soars from depths of despair with the strength and belief in the promise of the Creator of the universe. We know and we testify: The Lord loves justice; He will not forsake his saints.
Congregation: In the name of the Lord, let my people go.
Leader: And so he set off on a journey for justice. It was a journey proclaiming the words of the ancient prophet, Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters; and righteousness like a mighty stream.” It was a journey calling forth the modern Christian ministry to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.
Congregation: In the name of the prophet Amos, and in the name of suffering people, let my people go.
Leader: The journey went to Montgomery, to affirm human dignity and courage; to Birmingham, to defeat the sickness of separating human life; to Selma, to ensure the equality of people in human affairs; to a hundred nameless communities, to remove painful shackles of oppression and light joyous torches of liberty.
Congregation: In the name of this journey toward freedom, let my people go.
Leader: And even when death was confronted, as the journey reached Memphis, he could say in final triumph, that in life he had found something worthy dying for; something worth life itself, the Promised Land, a land of freedom with justice.
Congregation: In the name of the Promised Land, let my people go.
Leader: We praise the Lord God for sending us a man of peace who resisted tyranny, a man of God who worked for people. Thank you, Lord, for Martin Luther King Jr., who inspired us with his dream, who walked into our lives and our hearts with marches for justice, who demanded freedom with great courage in the face of grave danger, and who has now passed on into your Promised Land. Thank you for this noble legacy to continue the journey to that land here on earth, in life for all people. Thank you, God; You have sent us one who now causes us to say:
All: In the name of Martin Luther King Jr., let my people go.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.