This is the 45th anniversary year of the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but his words came alive again during a birthday celebration Saturday at Ocean City High School.
Speaker after speaker came to the microphone remembering something the slain civil rights leader said that touched them.
The Rev. John Sheldon of the First Presbyterian Church of Ocean City said he could relate to King a little bit. King was a Baptist minister, who was the son of a Baptist minister. Sheldon is a Presbyterian minister, who is the son of a Presbyterian minister.
Sheldon said he asked his father about King. His father heard King speak once in 1966 in a synagogue in Washington, D.C.
“He was excellent, and I was impressed,” said Sheldon, who not only recalled what his father told him, but added his father purchased King’s book “Stride Towards Freedom: The Montgomery Story” about the Alabama bus boycott after hearing him speak. “Nobody denies that he was a flawed human, like we all are, but he was mightily used by God.”
King was controversial in his time, speaking of equality during a period of segregation, either through legal means in the South, or just factually elsewhere.
Sheldon said his father preached the Sunday after King’s assassination, April 4, 1968, but didn’t say a word about it in his sermon. Half of his African-American worshippers were so offended that they walked out of church. He later mended his relationship with them.
“We have much to be thankful for in this country for what Dr. King pioneered for us,” Sheldon said.
Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said the celebration should have taken place during the school day, so students could attend. He said young people know the King name, but they don’t know the story. He also recited his favorite King quote.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that,” said Albano quoting King.
When Albano spoke from the stage, he pointed out a woman who brought her three children to the celebration. She was Clintona Richardson, 35, of Mays Landing, with her children, Taryn, 13, Aidan, 11, and Aaron, 10.
“The singing was beautiful. This is the first thing I have done that was this spectacular,” said Richardson after the celebration ended.
Musical selections during the program included pianist Bubby Fann and four singers from his Praise Beyond group leading everyone in “Lift Every Voice and Sing;” Carly Del Sorda, accompanied by pianist Robert Snodgrass, singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone;” and Clay Carmichael, accompanied by pianist Michael Downing, singing “One Day At a Time.”
During past King birthday weekends, Richardson said, she has had her children read books from the library. She does these things because she wanted her children to know the reason why they will be given a day off from school on Monday.
The Rev. Pastor Gregory Johnson, of Shiloh Baptist Church in Ocean City, invoked King the most during the afternoon program.
Johnson started talking while walking up one of the aisles in the auditorium. He paraphrased a King quote. King would have been turned 84 on Jan. 15 if he were still alive.
“If I can help somebody as I pass along... then my living will not be in vain,” Johnson said.
Johnson didn’t just refer to things King said in the past. He wondered aloud what King would say about the wrongs being committed today, including violence in the schools, and children being abused.
“Yes, we can vote. Yes, we can go to work. ... The issues are different today,” Johnson said.
Johnson and other speakers made reference to the impact of Hurricane Sandy in October on Ocean City. King would be satisfied with the way the community responded to the crisis, Johnson said.
“It was not about black. It wasn’t about white. It was unity,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s concluding message included his recitation of part of King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech from 1963 in Washington, D.C. Johnson didn’t repeat the whole speech, but he delivered more than the most famous part, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Kathleen Gallagher, 64, lives close to the high school. She never made it to the celebration previously, but was determined to attend this year.
“I think we made a lot of progress in our country, but we have a long way to go,” Gallagher said. “I think it’s great. The holiday is the same day as the president’s inauguration. Dr. King would have envisioned the day, and here is the day.”
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