PC’s celebration of MLK Jr. Day brings crowd to its feet

PC’s celebration of MLK Jr. Day brings crowd to its feet

The Rev. Myron Wilkins

This year’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Presbyterian College offered a glimpse at what the slain civil rights leader dreamed of – a “beloved community” filled with hope, joy, and equality.

Inspired by myriad voices – lifted in song, poetry, and speech – an energized crowd in Edmunds Hall rose to its feet numerous times in support of Rev. King’s legacy and each other. From PC junior Kennedy Elise Perry’s recitation of Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” to sophomore Suubi Mutebi’s reenactment of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, audience members were reminded of past struggles and challenged to continue seeking justice for all people.

Hearts were stirred by the powerful voices of the MLK Jr. Celebration Choir led by PC alumna Carla Jones, which included members of the local Tumbling Shoals Association Choir, the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church Raise the Praise Team, and United Voices for Christ.

Keynote speaker Rev. Myron Wilkins, Thornwell’s president and chief executive officer, shared his insights and experiences with King’s remarkable legacy. As he looked back on the history of the civil rights movement, Wilkins said he reflected on the truth that King’s story belongs to every marginalized person.

“Yes, it’s Dr. King’s story,” Wilkins said. “Yes, it is the story of those that marched and sweated and got bitten by dogs and died, the reality is that, for me, it is also my story. Much of all that happened in what we call the civil rights movement happened in my lifetime.”

Growing up in inner-city Philadelphia, Wilkins recalled that his home had three images on the walls inside – pictures of family, a painting of the “Black Last Supper,” and a portrait of Dr. King. Wilkins said he knew of his family’s origins in the rural South, where his father’s first job was running a separate projector for black moviegoers in a segregated movie theater. His mother and grandmother did laundry for wealthy white families, and his great-grandmother also nursed white children.

Wilkins said his parents told him that, because of Dr. King, he could be anything he wanted to be. This portrait of hope often conflicted with the reality Wilkins said he saw outside. In elementary school, he met the world’s harsh realities firsthand when he and his classmates learned that King was assassinated.

“I didn’t really know what all that meant,” Wilkins said. “But I could feel the heaviness that was over my house. But also remember this — I remember that next Sunday as a young child going down to the church in our neighborhood. I remember going to that church, and people came in. I remember the praises that were going up, and the shouts that were going up. And I remembered that day that the preacher preached the sermon that the dream will never die. The dream will never die.”

As an adult, Wilkins said he worked and served in a wide variety of places – big and small churches all across the country, including locations where he was the only person who looked like him. Those experiences, he said, made him realize that his life and career are not an anomaly and not the end. King’s work must continue until there is justice and freedom for everyone.

“The movement and the work of Dr. King made us feel so good – like we could run the race,” Wilkins said. “But he wanted all his life was for people like you to finish the race. Today, we celebrate the work that was done through the civil rights movement, but the work is not done until the work is done. There have been a lot of victories but there’s still a lot of challenges. We know, even recently, there’s been a lot to lose. But the work continues to go on. We must continue to go on.”

Wilkins said thousands of children in South Carolina have no homes and not enough to eat, despite all the programs and places like Thornwell that exist to help them.

“We’re doing the work, but is that good enough – to start the race?” he said. “We’ve got to finish the race.”

To complete King’s vision of the beloved community, Wilkins said people must be willing to leave their comfort zones and get to know people in need as individuals and not statistics.

“We need to cross those lines,” he said. “We need to be willing to be made uncomfortable – willing to be made inconvenienced – in order to get to know someone else.”

Simply put, Wilkins said, knowing and helping one another is what God intends for his people.

“Support those who need somebody to stand up from them,” he said. “Be willing to stretch out beyond your comfort zone. Because the reality is that we’re all God’s children. As Dr. King said, today is the day that we should not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. Have the audacity to believe that we can finish the race and victory can be ours.”