Bereans gathered in the Union Church sanctuary Monday morning to kickoff a day of activities celebrating the birthday of human rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
After a performance by the Berea College Black Music Ensemble led by Dr. Kathy Bullock, Union Church associate pastor Rachel Small-Stokes welcomed marchers.
Christianity was King’s motivator, she said. “While he was not a perfect man, he understood that he had certain gifts … he used his gifts to help others face up to fear; to find courage in the midst of dark and frightening times.”
Small-Stokes said she read an article that praised King not only for inspiring people and leading by example, “but also for helping people realize that they do not have to be overcome by fear. To help people face the very real danger of lynching …of fire hoses … of oppression.”
This message sticks with people today because the “lynchings are still happening; they are slower now,” she said. “They happen in the war on drugs, they happen in poverty, they happen in gang violence” and in all the ways “the powers that be” oppress and divide people against each other.
Small-Stokes read from King’s sermon in which he speaks as if he is Apostle Paul writing a letter to American Christians.
Although the piece was written in 1956, she said, it could have been written yesterday.
Writing as Paul, King talked about how he was impressed with America’s technological advances, but that the country lagged behind in “moral progress.”
“Through your scientific genius, you have made of the world a neighborhood. But through your moral and spiritual genius, you have failed to make of it a brotherhood,” King wrote.
“He challenges us to remember that we are all called to lift up the value and beauty of each and everyone of us,” said Small-Stokes. “No matter our skin color. No matter any of the other things that might divide us.”
She later highlights a part of King’s sermon in which he disputes Christians who said segregation was supported by the Bible. King, as Paul, pointed to scripture that has been Berea College’s motto since it was founded: “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.”
With police car escort, marchers journeyed to Berea Baptist Church where they were welcomed by Mayor Steve Connelly and heard presentations by Berea College staff and students. A commemoration eulogy was given by Dr. Gail Bowman, director of the college’s Campus Christian Center.
A 3 p.m. convocation in the Phelps-Stokes auditorium, “Our Shared Humanity: Creating Understanding through the Principles of Martin Luther King Jr.,” featured Naomi Tutu, a 1983 Berea College graduate and third child of Archbishop Desmond and Nomalizo Leah Tutu (see adjacent story).
Naomi Tutu is the program coordinator for the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University.
From 5 to 7:30 p.m., Tutu facilitated a workshop titled “Truth and Reconciliation” in the Carter G. Woodson Center Gallery of the college’s Alumni Building.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.