The Rev. Stanley McDonald challenged those attending Monday morning’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at a packed St. James AME Church to follow the example of the slain civil rights leader by not being afraid to take a stand.
Speaking at the annual service sponsored the Boyd and Greenup County Branch of the NAACP, McDonald, an employee of the Veterans Administration office in Huntington and a resident of Ashland, used the stoning of Stephen in the seventh chapter of Acts to compare the first century Christian martyr to the 20th century civil rights leader.
Just as a young Stephen took a stand in the early church and was stoned to death for it, Martin Luther King Jr. took a stand in 1955 when as a young pastor in Birmingham, Ala., he organized 385-day boycott of city buses that was started when Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat on the bus.
“Martin Luther King Jr. took a stand and Rosa Parks took a stand, and because of their courage, they helped to change America,” said McDonald, an ordained minister who is an associate pastor of New Hope Baptist Church.
While America has come a long, long way in the march toward equality since those early days of the civil rights movement, “we still have a long way to go,” McDonald said. “Our people today, especially our young people, need to be willing to take a stand for what is right.”
The Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and 1956 led to the sit-in movement in Atlanta, which began in February 1960 with blacks refusing to leave a whites-only lunch counter and continued with the 1963 March on Washington where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, McDonald said. While things are much better today, he said hate crimes continue to occur as individuals are attacked for the color of their skins or because they are thought to be gay, he added.
“Yes, we have come a long way, but we are still not free,” said McDonald, adding there have been times when he has failed to do all that he can to speak out on injustices.
“I have remained silent when I saw a wrong when I should have spoken out,” he said. “My prayer is that in the future I will have the courage to speak out and raise the public’s consciousness.”
Speaking briefly during the hour-long service, Mayor Chuck Charles challenged those in attendance to “seize the day” and to make the best of the opportunities each of us are given.
Dr. King was a “doer,” the mayor said. He was not a watcher, and he was not a talker who never put his words into action, the mayor said..
Charles challenged listeners to be doers instead of watchers and talkers. “That’s how we can make a difference,” he said. “We all need to seize the day.”
The Boyd County Middle School choir, whose members rose early on a day in which they did not have school, sang “Wade in the Water” and the Men’s Chorus from Christ Temple Church sang two numbers.
Ann Newman, president of the Boyd and Greenup County Branch of the NAACP, thanked all those present for attending the service and encouraged more of them to become involved in the local NAACP. “We especially need more involvement by our young people,” she said.
In the past year, two active NAACP members, Elzy Thomas and Jimmy Johnson, have died and the local branch needs young leaders to rise to fill the void their deaths have created, Newman said.
Bernice Henry, a longtime employee of the Ashland Head Start program, served as grand marshal of the parade from the historic church at the corner of Carter Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to First Presbyterian Church on Judd Plaza, a distance of a little more than four blocks. The church served a free light lunch.
For only the second time ever at the annual service, an offering was taken with all proceeds going to feed the hungry through Food from the King’s Table, a ministry of New Hope Baptist.
“I debated about doing this,” Newman said, “but this is not to benefit a Baptist program, it is to feed the hungry. Whether you give is up to you. Do as your heart leads you.”
JOHN CANNON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (606) 326-2649.