MLK Day celebrated in Dover

MLK Day celebrated in Dover

Image Credit: Lori Feeney

Two themes resonated during the Christopher Lowery annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Tribute at First Baptist Church in Dover on Jan. 15: Don’t give up, and individual efforts can change the world.

Master of ceremonies for the evening was New Philadelphia Law Director Marvin Fete, who said the committee had assembled an all Dover evening featuring keynote speaker and Dover native Perci Garner, Dover Mayor Shane Gunnoe, and music by Jamie and Sharon Gustkey and their daughter Lydia.

For his inspirational reading, Gunnoe shared a poem titled “Don’t Quit” by Edgar Guest. “I selected the poem as a tribute to Dr. King, who was ready to persevere and overcome so much adversity in his life,” Gunnoe said. “In his drive for change, Dr. King never quit, no matter what the odds or how difficult the situation he may have faced. Dr. King showed us it's only when we each rise and persevere through our adversity that we can bring true positive change to ourselves, this community and our country.”

Garner is the executive director of the Rainbow Connection and a former professional baseball player for the Cleveland Indians. In his address Garner drew parallels between the lives of King and Jesus, saying neither was widely celebrated during his lifetime, and both stood up against the status quo in order to affect change.

“That takes courage and leadership,” said Garner, who cited an opinion poll taken while King was alive in which more than two thirds of Americans said they did not approve of King’s work.

He also read from King’s last sermon, in which King spoke of his own future eulogy. “If you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell him not to talk too long. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe the naked. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”

Garner said everyone is familiar with King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, so he wanted to bring something new and perhaps previously unheard to the audience. He chose portions of a speech titled “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” King delivered it to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania six months before he was assassinated.

According to Garner, King made three important points in his message that day. “Number one is to believe in your self-worth,” Garner said. “Secondly, be determined to achieve excellence. Young people, there isn’t an age requirement to be a leader.”

The third point Garner stressed was to have a commitment to beauty, love and justice. “We all must be involved in the struggle for freedom and justice,” Garner said.

Before concluding, Garner referenced the poem, “Mother to Son,” by Langston Hughes, in which a mother speaks to her son about her life, describing the struggles she has faced and urging him to continue moving forward.

Garner called on those in attendance to reach out and start a conversation with someone of another race to foster a better understanding of one another.

“If you see someone at the gas pump, just say, ‘Hey, how's your day?’ It's that simple,” Garner said.

He then closed with a quote by King: “If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.”

Rev. Rasheed As-Samad, pastor of the First Baptist Church, said it is important to come together to honor King but equally vital for Americans to carry on his legacy.

"And the best way we can strive for this, the number one thing we can do as individuals, is to start by looking at the person in the mirror," he said. “We all deserve the right to strive for the American dream. Unfortunately, America is not the same America for everybody.”