More than 700 people remembered the heritage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday at the Mason Temple in Conway, which organizers pointed out is the name of the church where King gave his I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speech the day before he was killed in Memphis.
Monday’s event also included applauding people who have worked for justice and equality through the years and helped plan the King celebration for four decade. The enthusiastic crowd also enjoyed choir singing and heard encouraging words from three preachers.
The Rev. Steven Brown, pastor of Living Word Baptist Church in Conway, told the attendees that it doesn’t matter if they have top pedigrees or educations, God can use them.
He said King was out front leading the marches calling for justice and equality, but “there were a lot of people who did not speak who played major, major roles.”
He said there are frequently people in the background that others don’t see, but who are very important.
Sometimes, he said, people don’t do their parts because they don’t understand what their part is.
The important thing is to know their “raisin d’etre” or their reasons to be.
“Do you understand your raisin d’etre?” he asked.
He pointed to John 12:26 to show that Jesus knew what his purpose was, and as he was headed to the cross petitioned his Father to remove the cup that awaited him, but He was able to overcome His fear.
“Your spiritual relationship will always overcome the fear…You’ll walk at a real level of commitment to whatever you’re committed to,” he said.
Brown said King understood that his days might not be long, but he went to Memphis and kept fighting for what’s right.
He encouraged mothers who might not have lots of education and have spent their lives staying home raising children, saying it doesn’t matter how insignificant they or others think their job is, they have a purpose determined by God.
“We have to embrace what God called us to be,” he said.
He said everybody experiences failure, but failures and experiences make people who they are.
Just because someone has experienced failure doesn’t mean God can’t use him. He pointed to Jesus’ disciple Peter, who failed Jesus when he denied that he knew him.
But, he said, “He used Peter, and he denied Him.”
He told the vocal, approving crowd that they are living in a community where jails are filling, drug use is increasing daily and guns and violence are real issues.
Parents need to be involved, he said. People need mentors, which can put aunts and uncles to work.
He said his dad ran a juke joint, which most people don’t see as a fancy pedigree.
But he said, “Don’t look at your background, only look at where God is taking you.
He said people need to praise their uniqueness and their value to the whole body.
“I may not ever pastor 500 people, but I’ll be the best pastor of 50,” he said.
He continued to offer these encouraging words.
“Be the best you, and if nobody gives you credit don’t worry about it. God knows,” he said.
In the day’s main event, the Rev. Johnathan Greene Sr., pastor of St. Pau’s AME Church in Little River, pointed to Genesis 37:8 and the story of Joseph as he talked about the two groups that he believes include most people: haters and dreamers.
He said Joseph, a dreamer, told his brothers about his dreams and they responded by becoming haters.
“Haters and Dreamers, which one are you?” he asked.
He said when God puts someone in a position where He can use them, the haters get jealous and might try to make them feel small.
“It’s clear to me that haters don’t read the Bible,” he said.
He said workers of iniquity will be cut down like rain and advised people to be careful about who they share their dreams with.
“You need to take every opportunity to allow the Lord to use you,” he said.
He said King was the perfect example of this. He infuriated haters because he rose to prominence during the civil rights movement.
“He had to deny himself and take up the cross…It’s not about you when you take up the cross,” he said.
The work is about doing kingdom building for the Lord, not for ourselves.
He said King reminded people that darkness can’t drive out darkness, only light can do that and hate can’t drive out hate, only love can do that.”
He said the more Joseph talked with his brothers, the angrier they got.
“They became enraged. They say to Joseph do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?a”
But, he told the crowd, ”You must dare to be a dreamer.”
He said as long as King was a pupil, as long as he was a seminary student, as long as he as the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the world was okay with him.
But his problems arose when he said, “I have a dream and he said my dream is rooted in the American dream. It would have been one thing if he said his dream was to have a big house with a nice picket fence,” he said.
It would even been okay to say he wanted a Cadillac, a new suit of clothes and a new pair of shoes.
But, Greene said, King made his mistake when he said he wanted to be treated like every other American, sit at the lunch counter, use the same restrooms and drink at the same water fountains, or have his children attend the same universities as everybody else.
When he told his dream, they hated him even more.
“Dreamers realize that God has a plan…The Bible says I know the plan I have for you,” he said.
Greene said King went to Morehouse College to become a lawyer, but he heard the Lord’s words when He gave him another plan.
“…dreamers recognize that God gives us a purpose and He knows it, that all things work together for good for them that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. Let God use you, He has a purpose,” he said.
He said King wasn’t interested in being thrust into the limelight, he wanted to be president of Morehouse College.
When he was killed, King hadn’t felt well and almost didn’t go to Memphis.
He said King told his followers that he had been to the mountaintop and looked over into the Promised Land, a land flowing with opportunity, righteousness and equality.
He said together they’ll get to the Promised Land as long as they remember to give God the praise.
He said when James Weldon Johnson gave God his praise, he wrote, Lift every voice and sing, Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty, the well-known words to the Negro National Anthem.
He encouraged the group to march on till discrimination, racism, prejudice and sexism are defeated.
The Rev. Jerry Faulk closed out the day telling the crowd that God is the foundation that must work in others to make life better.
He pointed to the late Dick Elliott, saying he was a great supporter, who passed his passion on to his son Rick and wife Anne.
“It is time for all of us of goodwill, notice I didn’t say color, of goodwill to come together, have a roundtable meeting,” he said, adding that the area’s legislators need to take the lead, but can’t do it all.
“If we want our community to get better, everybody needs to be willing to sacrifice,” he said.
Faulk says people can’t shut their eyes and pretend it’s just a nightmare, that the community must come together and do what is right and in the will of God.
He said people need to come together to glorify the greatness of God.
“Glory, glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth still marches on,” Faulk said.
He challenged the attendees to do something to help somebody before next year’s celebration, to touch the life of someone who is headed in the wrong direction.
“It’s a shame and a travesty when older folks have worked all their lives and can’t enjoy the peace,” he said, adding that they can’t sit on their porches without worrying.
He said it will take love to remove the unrighteousness and replace it with peace, joy and happiness.
“That’s what it’s all about, making our community a better place to live,” he said.