The Rev. Dumas Harshaw Jr. can still remember being a young teen and seeing his father cry while listening live to Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous 1963 “I Have A Dream Speech,” in which he called for an end to racism in America.
King’s speech was one of the most defining moments during the civil right’s era and American history, and still resonates with many, including Harshaw himself.
Harshaw, the pastor of First Baptist Church on Wilmington Street in Raleigh, will be the keynote speaker for Sunday’s sixth annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. He has preached the gospel for more than 40 years now.
Harshaw said even as a young adult, he saw that the idea of responding to the injustices in the U.S. with violence, as the Black Panther party did, was not productive, and gravitated toward King’s message of peace.
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“Martin Luther King taught me that you would end up in worse shape by hating your enemy,” Harshaw said. “It was a welcomed change to Black Panther Party.”
Harshaw said in his keynote address, he will try to use one of King’s messages: “The fierce urgency of now,” in how it relates to the injustices of today’s world.
Harshaw references the multiple police involved shootings and protests over the last couple of years, recent terrorist attacks and the fear from it.
“To remind us that the greatest hope for a healthy society is learning to work together and work for a common goal,” he said. “(Dr. King) gave us a blue print for looking at some of the real problems, but also reaching across the aisle and embracing the other person who doesn’t look like us.”
Dwight Rodgers, co-chair of the committee responsible for putting it on the event, said he expects about 500 people to attend.
“Each year it gets better and better,” Rodgers said. “The community speaks for itself as far as turnout.”
Among the many acts participating in the event are Creech Road Elementary School choir, a singing performance from 2008 Miss North Carolina and Rodgers’ rendition of the “I Have A Dream Speech.”
The committee will also give a scholarship to a high school student.
Rodgers said he hopes he will see more of a diverse crowd this year.
“One good thing about Dr. King is, he didn’t see no color,” Rodgers said. “A human was a human.”
The event will start at 3:30 p.m. at the Garner Performing Arts Center. There will also be a special art exhibition, titled Thou Art Black Church, in the front lobby, that will feature the work of Willie Bigelow, Wendy Dickerson, Shawn Etheridge, Eric McRay, Jermaine Powell and LeGrant Taylor.
The art will be on display Jan. 15 through Feb. 29 and can be viewed Monday-Friday 1:30 p.m. thru 5 p.m. and during events.
There will be a meet-the-artists reception Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. before the celebration. Both the reception and the MLK celebration are free.