Niles group celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.

NILES — Before the sun rose Monday morning, people across Niles came together at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church to remember the life and legacy of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The commemorative event, The Niles Community Celebrates Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was organized by city councilwoman Charlie McAfee, Jeanette Pearson and Beverly Woodson in honor of the national holiday. 

People were invited to have breakfast and listen to city leaders and speakers remind residents how King’s work for human equality continues to be an inspiration.

McAfee, who represents Niles’ 3rd Ward, spoke Monday and said she remembers the civil rights movement. 

“I happened to be there during this time during a time of marches and water hoses and dogs. I was there,” she said.

McAfee said she was asked to recall what the holiday means to her. She said she had only to look back on the history she had lived.

“You would not have had to ask that question if you lived in a town or time when the only way in our out was through the back door,” McAfee said. “You would not have to ask if you lived in a town or time where you bought your lunch and had to go on the outside to eat it. When you could not vote or attend a school of your choice.”

McAfee reminded those listening that King’s effort to stand for what is right can teach us all something today.

“If one man can change a nation,” McAfee said, “how much more can one group, one organization or one town. How much more can we do? If it is to be, it is up to me.”

The Rev. Lynn King, a pastor of Living Faith church in South Bend, is not related to the civil rights leader, but knows his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech by heart.

King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech to more than 250,000 people Aug. 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs and for Freedom.

“I have a dream that my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged on the color but by the content of their character,” Lynn quoted. “I have a dream today.”

As Lynn’s voice resonated throughout the church, the words incited cheers and applause throughout.

Singers Ellen Gunn and Alice Fletcher also took to the stage Monday. Gunn sang a rendition of “Lord, Help Me Hold Out.” Fletcher sang “Precious Lord,” which she said was one of King’s favorite songs.

Several city and state leaders attended the event, including State Rep. Brad Paquette, council woman Jessica Nelson, Niles Community Schools Superintendent Dan Applegate and Niles Fire Chief Larry Lamb. Mayor Nick Shelton was also in attendance and addressed the crowd that morning. He said King had posed the question, “Where do we go from here?” in 1967.

“Dr. King was a good man who made a great difference,” Shelton said. “He was a beacon of hope. In my time as mayor, I have seen reflections of that beacon shining brightly in the city of Niles. We are blessed to live in a city, where we too can be hopeful.”

He said King’s quest for human rights continues to remind people today to strive for equality.

“I ask myself, what can I do to make a difference? What can we do as a community? I wonder where do we go from here?” he said.

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