After Monday’s parade made its way down Hinesville’s slippery streets and ended in Bradwell Institute’s parking lot, procession attendees, county and city dignitaries, area residents and visitors stepped inside the school’s gym for a two-hour Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative service.
With schools and most offices closed, a crowd of a few hundred gathered to listen to guest speakers talk about the vision of the late Martin Luther King Jr., who would have been 82 on Monday.
BI’s JROTC posted the colors, the audience recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang hymns. Scriptural passages were read to the audience before city and county officials took the lectern.
“Dr. King taught us one thing: love conquers all,” Mayor Jim Thomas told the audience.
3rd Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo said King’s words and inspirations rang true to him and his soldiers one year ago as they carried out their mission in a place that had been filled with hate, much like the hostile environment King and his supporters endured.
“No matter where we are, we know certain things must be remembered,” Cucolo said. “For some, it was the first time they had heard Dr. King’s words.”
Last year, the general and his soldiers invited scholars and Iraqi leaders to their observance in hopes of sharing words of love and peace in a place riddled with conflict.
The response was positive, something that Cucolo hoped for. Through a translator, Iraqis told the general, “We desperately need our own Dr. King.”
With the recent attack on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her supporters, the speakers at Bradwell also acknowledged a need for peace and non-violent activism, which King often called for during the civil rights era. The presenters asked audience members to pray for victims of the Tucson tragedy.
Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver commended the county’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Association for coordinating the festivities. He also thanked the 3rd ID soldiers and community members.
In keeping with the celebration’s theme, “Back to the Basics … Saving a Generation through Education, Service and Integrity,” Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer closed the service’s audience greeting segment before the main speaker, the Rev. C. Dewayne Roberts, took the podium.
“Students need to develop the conflict resolutions that allow them to solve conflicts in ways that are non-violent,” Scherer said. “So today, we honor the life and work of Dr. King. Let us leave here today with an attitude of non-violence.”
Roberts, who is from Augusta, took the stage and quickly captured the audience members who responded to his speech with exclamations of “Amen” and “praise God.”
“I am extremely honored to be a part of this great celebration,” Roberts said. “There should always be a reflection … how far have we really come? We still have a great work to do.”
The reverend called on audience members to wake up what he called the “sleeping generation” and get youth and families back on the right track, back to basics that include courteous behavior.
“We need to put the texting down and start talking,” he said. “Texting is good, but talking is better.”
Roberts challenged attendees to bring their families together around the dinner table. He asked adults to remind young girls what it means to “leave something to the imagination.” The preacher pleaded with the audience to remember that the world needs love and compassion, not hate and warfare — a message MLK Jr. preached over and over again throughout his short life.
“We’re living in some challenging times where genuine love has disappeared like a vapor on a hot July day,” Roberts said. “When wrong is right, and right is wrong … we need to wake up, sleeping generation. Martin Luther King Jr. taught all night and all day.”
Commissioner Donald Lovette and city councilman Kenneth Howard recognized parade grand marshal Booker T. Burley Sr., who had hosted Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders in his home during the early 1960s. The Trail Blazer awards also were given out to members of the community who worked to integrate county schools during the ’60s. Community business leaders were given civic awards for their philanthropic efforts in Liberty County.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Association President Dr. Alvin L. Jackson delivered the service’s closing remarks and thanked the audience for their participation.
“We thank you for all your support this week ... for this celebration we’ve done this weekend,” he said. “It is always a pleasure that we do what we do … again, I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you.”