Tribute walk to Martin Luther King Jr. returns to Dowagiac

Published 8:46 am Thursday, January 16, 2014

Leader file photo Clergy from a number of local churches lead the procession at the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. march. Second Baptist will again lead the march this Sunday.

Leader file photo
Clergy from a number of local churches lead the procession at the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. march. Second Baptist will again lead the march this Sunday.

After a brief absence last year, men and women from throughout the Dowagiac community will march hand-in-hand to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

Second Baptist Church will lead the procession from Dowagiac City Hall to their church on Paul Street. The march will begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 19, at the steps of the city hall building on Front Street.

“Second Baptist is a leader in the community not only on the spiritual side, but on the social justice side as well,” said Gene Staples, the pastor of the church. “We want to help the community come closer together.”

In addition to members of the Second Baptist congregation, Staples said he has invited clergy and members from other churches in the local ACTION ministry network to join them on Sunday as well. A few officials with the city will also be in attendance, including Mayor Don Lyons and Public Safety Director Steve Grinnewald.

“We are inviting the whole community to come out, to provide a symbol of solidarity,” Staples said.

Once the march arrives at its destination, Staples and the rest of the ministers present will lead a community prayer. Visitors will then be treated to hot chocolate, soup, chili and other refreshments in the church’s basement.

While Second Baptist has organized a march through the city for a number of years, this is the first year that Staples has put together the event since he took over as pastor. Although complications prevented the church from holding the march last January, the reverend said that things fell into place this year.

“There has been an overwhelming level of cooperativeness here,” Staples said. “I haven’t had one person say no when I asked them to participate. Everyone has been all for it.”

While this will mark the first time he participated in the Dowagiac march, Staples said he is no stranger to MLK Day celebrations. The pastor said he has participated in similar marches in South Bend for more than a decade, and has helped organize smaller events since he was in high school.

“Dr. King taught me that I have a voice, and with that voice I can help other people in need,” Staples said.

It is through the teachings of the famed civil rights activist that Staples draws much of the inspiration for his own leadership and ministry, he said. Of particular importance to him was King’s doctrine of non-violence, which Staples has adapted into his own teachings to his congregation.

“You can respond to a person where you are more of a thermostat than a thermometer,” Staples said. “I can set the temperature, the tone, of the conversation, rather than just reacting to what’s being said to me.”

This year, the clergy will also focus on the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa who helped end the racial segregation that plagued the nation for decades.

“I want to make sure that people recognize the connection between the work and the struggle of both leaders,” Staples said.

The march will also serve as another opportunity for Second Baptist to increase awareness of its efforts to improve the Dowagiac community. The church will hold a special town hall style meeting later in January to launch its new TAC (Transforming Action through Community) program, the church’s new outreach initiative.

“For us, this event is our launch into our campaign to make a difference in the community,” Staples said.

Sunday’s march is open to the public.