Conway residents gather for annual MLK celebration

Carol Rolf Originally Published January 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 23, 2013 at 10:28 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Cora Lewis sings and claps during a program Monday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. at the Faulkner County Library. The program followed a unity march that began at City Hall.

— Participants in this year’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration marched from City Hall to the Faulkner County Library on Monday morning, arriving there just in time to see President Barack Obama sworn in for his second term as the 44th president of the United States of America. The significance of his inauguration on the King holiday, seen on a large screen via Internet live streaming, did not go unnoticed.

“This is very significant,” said Jeff Moncrease, leader along with his wife, Jacqueline, of the local MLK group, A Piece of the Dream — PESE (Political, Economic, Social Empowerment). “It sets a benchmark. During the first four years of Obama’s presidency, we were just getting adjusted to an African-American president and all of the crises of the times, but today is a paradigm. All things are lining up. This is something different than before.

“During the next four years, outside all the politics, I see him trying to bring us together, unifying us to achieve King’s dream. I believe we can actually achieve his dream.”

The word “believe” was used

prevalently throughout the celebration.

Guest speaker Charles E. Simmons Jr., pastor of the ROK (Rhema Outreach Kingdom) Church in Conway, titled his speech, “I Believe,” which dealt with King’s “I’ve Seen It From the Mountaintop” speech that he gave in Memphis on April 3, 1968, one day before he was assassinated.

Simmons prefaced his words about King with a heart-touching story about his 5-year-old daughter who, just more than a year ago, had a day of seizures “out of the blue.”

After being awakened late one night by his wife, Simmons said he found himself looking at his 4-year-old “baby” with her mouth foaming and her eyes rolled into the back of her head.

“We rushed her to the emergency room, and after a bit, she seemed to come out of it,” Simmons said, “but then she had another seizure. During that time, as I whispered prayers in her ear, one of the nurses came up to me and quietly said, ‘She’s going to be OK. Just believe.’

“I did believe, and now, a year later, she has been seizure-free.

“Martin Luther King Jr. was a believer. He said he had been to the mountaintop, and he believed his dream would one day come to pass. And that dream of a colorblind society would succeed because of the power of love and nonviolence. He believed.

“He said, ‘Like anybody, I want to live a long life, … but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but … I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.’”

Simmons continued: “I’m

telling you to keep on believing, my fellow citizens. Keep on believing. Change is inevitable. Where we are today is not the end but only the beginning.

“We must live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools.”

Soloist Alveretta Lynch of Menifee led the crowd in the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” prior to Simmons’ speech. Later in the program, she led the crowd in singing an African-American spiritual, “Walk Together, Children.”

Lynch said she participated in the King Day activities because “we are all one, not just for today, but all of the time.

“All of us are one,” said Lynch, a retired schoolteacher with 30 years of experience. “The one thing that can join us is love. Love is action.”

Former state Rep. Linda Tyler was in the audience, as were several other politicians and city leaders.

“I’ve been a longtime supporter of Martin Luther King Day,” Tyler said while waiting at the library for those who were taking part in the march. “It’s such a valuable symbol of what our community is all about.”

Mayor Tab Townsell

welcomed the crowd at the library on behalf of the city.

Townsell encouraged those in the audience to remember King for what he did “to make us celebrate his life.

“If it were not for what he, and others, did, we could still be in the same culture of ‘separate but equal,’” Townsell said. He said people still have the same DNA as those who lived during that time and they could have the same ideas.

“We must remember the context of King’s life,” Townsell said. “We must remember our common humanity. This is why this day is so important. This is an important day in history. It is a landmark, but there is still much to be done.”

Melody Sargent of Conway and her three sons, Steven, 26; Brannon, 18; and Jaylon, 14, were among those who marched from City Hall to the library.

“I come every year,” Sargent said, “and I march every year.

“I do it because I am ever so grateful to Dr. King and the others. I am a teacher myself. I teach at Florence Mattison Elementary School. I teach Caucasians, African-Americans, Asians, Latinos … I teach them all. I am very grateful for this opportunity, for this way of life.”

A complimentary lunch was served following the program at the library, which also included activities for children.

Students from Hendrix University and the University of Central Arkansas led afternoon activities for children and their families at the Boys and Girls Club of Faulkner County, 1313 Deer St. in Conway. The day’s celebration concluded with an evening chapel service at Hendrix.

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