Using the theme “Help Me Lift Jesus,” the Rev. Damon Mitchell, pastor of St. Luke’s A.M.E. Church, engaged his large audience in recalling the life and works of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the 49th annual commemorative program.
Mitchell opened his message Monday, on the federal holiday in honor of Dr. King, saying to his audience “Happy King Day!” From there, he highlighted some of the things King did to help the downtrodden and spread love. Then, Mitchell told the audience that much of the progress that was made because of King’s work is under attack.
“They say they want to take the country back. They say they want to make America great again. They want to appeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement. These are those who say they want to build a wall to keep out murderers and rapists. They are actively trying to make it more difficult for people to get to the polls,” Mitchell said, at one point invoking President-elect Donald Trump by name.
“HBCU”s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) are closing while prisons are being built. The criminal justice system is often found to be just that ... criminal,” Mitchell told his endearing audience who shouted amen and clapped ferociously in approval as he continued his message. U.S. Justice Department statistics reveal that African-Americans get harsher punishments for the same crime as that of others, Mitchell said. Quoting King, Mitchell said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
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“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed,” Mitchell continued.
He told the crowd, using a King quote, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” To truly pay tribute to King’s life and work, Mitchell told the people they must follow King’s lead and do the work that he did, be the voice for the voiceless and reach out to others and lend a hand ... all to make a difference.
Mitchell encouraged the people who sat in his audience to do things like write a check to the United Negro College Fund, make a presence in the life of a child, or to use their lifestyle as an example to others.
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.
The Rev. Damon Mitchell, pastor of St. Luke’s A.M.E. Church, East St. Louis
Speaking to the violence that is occurring, Mitchell said, “We’ve fallen in love with violence. I don’t understand people who share videos of violence. There’s nothing cute about somebody being beaten.” Mitchell said, citing the violence cast upon Jesus.
“Like Jesus, we all have a cross to bear,” Mitchell told the people. “When people need help, we ought to help them,” Mitchell said.
“Where is the church in the face of injustice and all that is going on? We’re busy building our own empire instead of helping people,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also recognized the outgoing 44th president, Barack Obama, and the work he did to make a difference.
Ulysses Little, one of those in the audience, said the message was “thought-provoking.”
“He used the analogy of lifting Jesus up because that’s what Jesus was about ... lifting people. All Jesus did was for humanity,” Little said.
Keenon Hamburg, 11, a sixth-grader at Sister Thea Bowman, was delighted to talk about what King means to him.
”He’s a great man because he thought black people should be able to do what white people can do and he fought for equal rights for everybody. Everybody is equal,” Keenon said.
Taylor Ballard, 17, a student at Belleville East, said King “fought for our rights to be equal. He had a dream that one day there would be no segregation and discrimination and that each of us could walk together as brothers and sisters. We all need to do our part to keep the work he did going and make a difference.”
Vernon Wells, 14, an eighth-grader, said King means a lot to him.
“He taught that segregation is wrong. He felt kids should grow up unafraid of whites and we all should have the right to vote and sit anywhere we want. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk to police about things,” he said.