By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
Bereans gathered in the Union Church sanctuary for a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial celebration Monday morning before a chilly march just a few blocks away to First Christian Church.
Both churches were established by Reverend John G. Fee, the founder of Berea and a man dedicated to the abolition of slavery, said Rev. Kent Gilbert of Union Church.
Although students, community members and spiritual leaders gathered to celebrate King’s legacy, they also marched to remember “that the first small steps that were taken here in Berea, still echo like drum beats through all of our history,” Gilbert said. “There is so much yet to be done.”
This year commemorates the 50th anniversary of the King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” which he wrote while detained for his participation in non-violent protests in 1963, said Dr. Gail Bowman, director of the Berea College Campus Christian Center.
Bowman went through a list of events during what she called, “one of the most tumultuous years of U.S. peacetime history … If ever there has been a moment to put a pin in our past in order to put a purpose in our present, this is that day.”
All during 1963, the director of public safety in Birmingham ordered the use of fire hoses and police dogs on peaceful demonstrators; the Alabama governor tried to stop court-ordered integration at the University of Alabama by standing in the doorway and refusing to move; the head of the NAACP in Jackson, Miss. was shot in his driveway; King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington; the Klu Klux Klan bombs a church, killing four girls; and President John. F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Bowman recalled.
“We march because it is right to march and we have the right to march,” she said. “We march because Berea has a marching tradition. We are Berea, and so we march.”
The community members moved outside to fill the sidewalks. Children distributed signs they had made for the march and then took their place in a group that stretched from one intersection to the next.
“I want my children to understand the history that has brought us to where we are, that there is still work to do, and that we need to be a part of that,” said Jenny Ceesay, director of the Upward Bound program at Berea College and mother of four.
“This is the one thing we do every year, as a family,” she said.
Member of Bereans for Fairness, Lisa Shroyer, wore her blue “Another Kentuckian for Fairness” shirt Monday, along with several other community members.
“I’m marching to show solidarity with all oppressed groups of people. This is an important march and is something that commemorates important progress in this country,” Shroyer said. “I want fairness to be a part of that. “
Berea College sophomore Austin Davis said it is important to march to keep King’s legacy alive, “so generations after us know the importance of what he did.”
Some individuals at the MLK celebration lived through the sixties, said Berean Dorie Hubbard.
“For many of us who were active in the civil rights movement back then, and are still active now, this is an important milestone to celebrate,” Hubbard said.
After marchers helped themselves to hot beverages and snacks, the crowd gathered in the First Christian Church main sanctuary.
This second church founded by Fee was established in 1895, said Dr. Ed McCurley, minister of First Christian Church.
“High up behind you in the bell tower is the Freedman’s Bell, which Rev. Fee used at Camp Nelson to call freedman and soldiers to worship and classes,” McCurley said. “The bell was rung during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln and continues to ring today.”
Mayor Steve Connelly couldn’t help but wonder what King would be thinking if he were alive today, he said.
“In my mind, no doubt, he would have been very proud, but not satisfied,” the mayor said. “I think it’s important that we march today because we want to pass that torch. We want our upcoming generations to have a sense of what was done in the past.”
The First Christian Church celebration ended with a few words from both Berea Community High School students and Berea College students centered around the theme: “Moving beyond the dream to brighten the future.”
Four members of the high school’s S.E.E.D. (Students Expressing and Exploring Diversity) club spoke.
“We have accomplished things that Martin Luther King himself probably would never even imagine … like electing a minority president two terms in a row,” said BCS student Robert Reed.
He is a member of the only minority family in his neighborhood, he said, but “I can go to any of my friend’s houses and spend the night and eat the same food that they eat, play basketball or football in their yard, without the fear of being brutalized.”
Berea College junior Ethan Hamblin brought the crowd to their feet with a speech full of humor and honesty.
“I get to join my sisters and brothers in continuing to uphold the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as we stand in solidarity against injustice and breathe life into what we know as the beloved community,” Hamblin said. “It has taken us a long time to get here, but honey, we have a fair piece to go before we can rest.”
Hamblin continued with a steely indictment of the laws that fail to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, he said.
“I have been told that my lifestyle is against the Bible and I have been blackballed from the pearly gates and that my crossing of the Jordan River has been revoked,” Hamblin said.
Then why would he come “out of the closet?” he asked.
“Because Dr. King would have wanted me to,” Hamblin said. “Dr. King would have held my hand, marched with me and told me that my house in the beloved community is just as important as my neighbor and that I am loved and that I am important.”
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.