A huge crowd that included politicians, ministers and ordinary citizens celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy on his holiday Monday at Mount Pigsah Missionary Baptist Church in East St. Louis. But the festivities came with a challenge, too.
Vincent D. Collins, the church’s pastor, dared those in attendance to dare to dream, as King did, that one person can make a difference.
“Today we are celebrating the life and legacy of one of the greatest preachers to ever do it (preach). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was one of the greatest to ever walk this earth. He was a preacher par excellence and a prophet to America,” Collins said. “You can’t talk about King without talking about his dream.”
“Dr. King eloquently articulated his dreams and then acted on it. King was one man who dared to dream and dared to make a difference,” Collins said. “Dr. King’s life was masterfully modeled. He didn’t need Twitter or Facebook. If you doubted whether you can make a difference, King’s life is an example that one person can revolutionize an entire nation. “Dr. King’s I have a dream speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 2, 1963, was a defining moment in American history.”
“His dream challenged this nation and this yet to be United States of America. He challenged all men, not some men — black or white. All men are created equal with certain inalienable rights ... life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Collins said.
Collins told the audience it was good for them to have a dream.
“Dreams are good for the human heart,” he said, his voice rising and falling passionately. “You ought to have a dream that gives you a reason to get up in the morning — a dream where you’re so passionate about what’s inside of you that it pushes you past your personal pain, past a stopping point. Something that is difficult to attain, but worth going after, something that keeps you pressing towards progress.”
The dream, Collins said, should be “aspiring and instructive, one that stares and steers, one that moves and motivates.”
Collins said he has an exceptional love for King’s legacy of “service that outlasted his life.”
He said King taught that “our lives cease to matter when we become silent about things that matter like race and the unjust criminal justice system.”
“King said ‘I gotta do something.’ He put into action what he articulated,” Collins said.
Collins noted King’s sermon on “The Fierce Urgency of Now” and said, “Dr. King challenges us to make a difference amid the continued challenges that are still plaguing our community. Before we can clean up America’s community, we have to clean up our community.”
Collins said that when King went to Memphis to stand with the sanitation workers in their fight for economic justice, though there were threats against his life, King said he was not worried because he had been to the mountaintop and he had seen the promised land.
The program started at noon with young people performing “The Journey of My People.” They held up signs that said, “I am somebody. I am a man. Vote now,” and other messages on signs carried by protestors during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. One young man, Dajuan Burton, recited King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, to the delight of the crowd and several hearty rounds of applause.
In their performance, the journey, the young people said began with resistance. “Before I’ll be a slave, I will be buried in my grave,” they sang. They remembered the Jim Crow laws and told their captive audience “Separate Is Not Equal.” They also recounted the Selma, Alab. , bus boycott. “A groundswell of discontent became the movement,” the children said.
King’s fight was not a fight for black or white people, but rather a fight for all humankind, the young people said.
Selena Tucker, 16, focused the audience’s attention on black people’s fight to be free and to have equal opportunities.
“Freedom isn’t free. Jobs. Equal opportunity jobs now,” she said.
Tucker told a reporter that King’s dream lives on.
“He wanted us all to love one another, to celebrate each other’s differences, to work together, to strive to do better, to sit together at the table of brotherhood — as one,” Tucker said. And, yes we have a come a long way since King made his “I Have A Dream” speech, “But, we still have a lot of work left to do to.”
Ryshaun Brown, 16, another of the young performers, said he took away from Collins’ message “to always strive to do better... to do things to make a difference.”
“I volunteer with different groups and on my own, too, to help people,” Brown said. “I know Dr. King wants all of us to do what we can to make a difference. And, I agree all of us should have a dream that won’t let us quit until it is realized.”
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503