Community braves cold for annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration

Published 9:22 am Tuesday, January 19, 2016

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

In spite of the single-digit temperatures, freezing wind and billowing snow facing them Sunday, the group of people assembled outside Dowagiac City Hall that afternoon still marched with confidence toward their destination, Second Baptist Church.

Nearly a dozen people, including pastors with local churches, Second Baptist members and several law enforcement officers, made their way down the snowy city streets during the church’s and A.C.T.I.O.N.’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration that day. The group walked in commemoration of the King’s famous March on Washington, a day before the county celebrated the 1960s civil rights activist’s birthday.

After arriving at the church and warming up with some soup and chili, the marchers joined others waiting for them at the chapel for the program celebrating the life and achievements of King, entitled “Unity in the Community.”

True to the spirit of the celebration, leaders with several different churches — and organizations — presented during the ceremony, including Director of Public Safety Steve Grinnewald, who read a passage from Ephesians 4:3 to the audience.

Pastors Kel Penny, with First United Methodist Church, and James Gibson, with Victory Tabernacle, were also a part of the program. The former read a passage from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which the Baptist minister criticized southern white church leaders for not coming forward to support the struggles of he and other black activists during the civil rights movement.

“There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed,” Penny said, quoting from King’s letter. “In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”

Gibson, on the other hand, recounted the experience of the 600 civil rights protestors who were attacked by police officers while marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965. The event, later known as “Bloody Sunday,” became a flashpoint in the civil rights movement, helping to push forward the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“As I was thinking about this today, and thinking where this took us and where this took our country, it made me realize something — that there are times in our life when things don’t look good,” Gibson said. “But if we hold on, I know this is true — freedom will ring.”

Finally, new Second Baptist Pastor Maurice Broadway closed the ceremony, delivering his first sermon in front of his new congregation.

This year’s celebration was organized by Penny; Rev. Jerri Porter, pastor of the Conner-Mayo African Methodist Episcopal Church; and Don Nash, a member of Second Baptist Church.