Martin Luther King Jr.’s power and influence were on full display last week, as eastern Wake County residents gathered for a pair of breakfast celebrations on the day set aside to remember the slain civil rights leader.
King, who was shot and killed in 1968, remains a powerful figure in race relations in this country.
At Riley Hill Baptist Church on Monday morning about 100 people gathered to talk about why it’s important to celebrate King’s work and to hear how it can be carried forward.
Pastor Alfonza Fullwood, speaking near the end of Monday’s sixth annual MLK breakfast, addressed the elephant in the room.
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“Dr. King’s message was one of love. We must all learn to love one another. Even I must learn to love Donald Trump,” Fullwood said. For many, the inauguration of a new president who has made racially divisive comments leading up to his election, is the antithesis of the man he is replacing. President Barack Obama was the nation’s first black president.
Lillie Brown Clark spoke to the crowd about the T-shirt she was wearing. It featured images of Rosa Parks, King and Obama. It read “Rosa sat so Martin could walk so Obama could run so our children could soar.”
She said the community’s challenge now is to equip young people with the tools to realize the vision King offered.
Dr. Linda Bryan, a former dean of the Shaw University Divinity School, was the keynote speaker. She recalled visiting the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where King was shot. It had been turned into a museum to commemorate King’s life and work.
“King viewed his mission as pursuing his own version of heaven on Earth. His dream was deeply rooted in the American Dream. I wondered how Dr. King had the tenacity to get back up time each time he was knocked down. I believe it was his faith in God,” Bryan said.
In Zebulon, the 11th annual celebration at Zebulon Baptist Church had the feel of a town board meeting, with all the board members present, Commissioner Glenn York making opening remarks and Mayor Bob Matheny giving the keynote speech.
After giving updates on town affairs and on current political matters affecting municipal government, Matheny encouraged the crowd to be vocal with town leaders when issues arise.
“I hope that our community has an open dialogue,” Matheny said. “If we don’t, you need to tell us that so that we can fix it. But we can’t talk at each other. We have to talk with and to each other.”
Matheny also urged those present to involve themselves in activities that make Zebulon a better place for all people to live.
“Participate, participate, participate,” he said. “That’s what you have to do to bring cohesion to our community. We must stand with each other as a human race – not separate. Not African American, Caucasian, Hispanic or other, but together. Together, we win, and separate, we lose.”
The breakfast event also featured musical performances by the Wakefield Missionary Baptist Church Inspirational Voices and an acrostic tribute to King by area youth.
Nancy High, a member of the Zebulon MLK Jr. breakfast committee, noted attendance was up compared to past years. Few chairs in the church’s fellowship hall were empty.
“Wake County – Zebulon area – you showed up,” High said. “That’s wonderful, and we want to see you again next year.”