Bethel Missionary Baptist Church hosted an annual citywide celebration Sunday. The service commemorated the 79th birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and recognized several local humanitarians.
Speaker of the evening, Florida A&M University president Dr. James Ammons, asked the question: “What will be your call to action?”
Among the attendants were Mayor John Marks, County Commissioner Bill Proctor, City Manager Anita Favors-Thompson and Rep. Curtis Richardson. Over 500 individuals were estimated to be in attendance.
The FAMU Gospel Choir sang two selections, and Julian White, the FAMU director of bands, was on hand to give a special recognition to Rickards High School. The Rickards band played at the Orange Bowl.
The Rev. Chester Brown, pastor of Shady Grove #1 Primitive Baptist Church, presided over the service.
Devin Wright, 19, said people should always remember that King was a preacher before he became a civil rights leader.
“Why are we here at the church?” Wright asked. “Before Martin Luther King began to speak on civil injustice, he was a preacher. We need to start where he began. We need to start at the church. We must live in the wonder of the work in order to manifest the dream.”
Ammons spoke on the plight of black youth and urged them to follow in King’s footsteps. He spoke about the struggle of black men and mentioned that 40 percent of black males will drop out of high school. He also said that for every one black man in college, six are in jail.
“No longer can we let BET and MTV define what it means to be a successful black man,” Ammons said. “We must teach them about the challenges they will have to negotiate.”
Ammons asked adults to become more involved in the youth. He said he believes if this happens, more of the youth will grow up to be like King. He said King was indeed a critical thinker and wanted blacks to pull together to address the social crisis.
“We have to make a difference in the lives of others,” Ammons said.
Marks agreed with Ammons. He said he would like for blacks to be “progressive, positive and proactive.”
“Are you ready to shake off the haters?” Marks said. “Dr. King fought for peace, equality and dignity. We must continue to shake off the haters.”
King was the subject of the evening, however the program also celebrated outstanding community leadership. Among the honorees were Claudette Cromartie, Mel Eby, Edward Holifield and Roosevelt Wilson. Cromartie was chosen for her contributions to housing, while Eby received the award for leading the homeless shelter on Tennessee street. Holifield helped raise awareness of sick children and Wilson, the publisher of the Capital Outlook, brought attention to the Martin Lee Anderson case. Proctor also recognized FAMU’s Student Coalition for Justice. Each of its members received awards.
Ammons said to honor the life and legacy of King, one must follow five guidelines: exercise your right to vote, treat people with respect regardless of race or social status, reach out to those in need, strive for a peaceful existence and find something bigger than yourself to believe in.