The Richmond County Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Foundation Committee has released its schedule for its annual weekend event to honor the life of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK).
The theme for 2014 is “Honoring the Past - Moving Forward.”
J.C. Watkins, committee director, thinks the theme is important not only to remember the work and accomplishments of King, but also in looking at what King envisioned this country to be.
“He encouraged a social revolution in America,” Watkins said. “Things have changed so much because of what he did. They have changed for everyone. He changed the way we look at this country and what this country stood for, and that’s why we’re moving forward because we’re not quite where Dr. King wanted us to be. It hasn’t fully come yet. That’s why we have the celebration to remind us that we’ve come a long way, but we still have some unfinished business.”
Daryl Mason, chief of operations for Leak Street High School, will be honored at this year’s event for his contributions to the youth of Richmond County.
The celebration all starts at 9 p.m. on Jan. 17 beginning with the MLK Gala. The event will be located at East Hamlet Community Center at 155 Laurel Hill St. in Hamlet. Entry is free but donations of $10 will be accepted.
“The purpose of the gala is to start of the weekend off in celebration,” said Kimberly Harrington, who co-chairs the event with Curtis Ingram. “We started the gala a few years back as a social event to engage more of our youth. There will be a dance, and we will also have refreshments.”
There will be a breakfast starting at 9 a.m. on Jan. 18 at FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital in Rockingham.
“The breakfast is completely free, but space is limited,” Watkins said. “We’ll serve a big full breakfast to the first 100 people that arrive.”
At 7 p.m., the celebration will kick off a Youth Extravaganza at Leak Street Educational and Cultural Community Center in Rockingham.
“The extravaganza is really a talent show,” Watkins said. “It is made up of young people from ages 4 on up through high school. It is really good entertainment from our young people and the audience really enjoys it.”
The Ecumenical Service at 7 p.m. on Jan. 19 will be one of the events people are looking forward to most, Watkins said. It will be at Outreach For Jesus located at 440 Battley Dairy Road in Hamlet. The host pastor will be Bishop Marvin Taylor.
“The service is one of our largest attractions,” Watkins said. “What we do on this day is we go to a predominately white church and have a special service there. This year’s speaker will be Pastor Patricia Sykes of East Rockingham United Methodist Church. After the message has been given the MLK Choir will sing for the congregation.”
The MLK/J.C. Watkins Choir performance is one of the more raved-about events for the weekend, Watkins said. Members have been practicing each week since October and are continuing to practice as they lead up to their performance. Brooksie Harrington will be directing the choir this year.
Harrington is a graduate from Richmond Senior High and has obtained his doctorate in African American history, Watkins said. He is also a very talented musician.
The events on Jan. 20 will likely draw the largest crowd for the entire weekend. Starting at 10 a.m. there will be a parade and march in downtown Rockingham.
“There will be no bands going on during the march,” Watkins said. “It will just simply be people walking and singing. We encourage anyone, no matter their race, to join us in this march.”
The march will start at the corner of East Washington Street and Rockingham Road and participants will work their way to the old Richmond County Courthouse on Harrington Square. Participants are asked to assemble at 9:30 a.m. at the Leath Memorial Library. There will be a short presentation at the courthouse before everyone moves on to the luncheon.
The luncheon will be held at noon on Jan. 20 at Sidney Grove Family Agape Center located at 401 McIntyre Road in Ellerbe. The MLK/J.C. Watkins choir will be singing at this event as well. Donations of $12 will be accepted to cover the cost of lunch.
“Now the luncheon is probably the event that has grown the most since we started this celebration,” Watkins said. “We started out years ago at the armory in Rockingham, but it soon got too small for us. The same as with Richmond Senior (High School) and another church we relocated to. We have been at this location for the past three or four years.”
On Jan. 16, 17, 18 and 20 there will be a poster exhibit at Leath Memorial Library in Rockingham. This exhibit will show off the talent of the youth in the community.
“We always want to get as many folk involved as possible, so we went to superintendent’s office a few years back to get students involved,” Watkins said. “We have an essay competition and a poster competition. All the schools participate in it. In the posters, we ask the students to show the theme through their artwork. We get hundreds of posters. We also have a committee to judge the essays and the winning essays are usually read at Youth Extravaganza with the high school winner’s essay being read at the luncheon. Out of all the events, this is where we see the most involvement from all race and cultural backgrounds.”
Ingram, who has been a member of the committee since it was established in 1986, said that the festivities have been growing each year.
“It’s all do to the amazing community involvement that we’ve had,” Ingram said. “I don’t think there are any other counties that do as much as we do, every year gets bigger and stronger. We want to encourage everyone to continue to participate.”
Harrington couldn’t be more proud of the way the event keeps gaining more attention as the years past, but her greatest hope is that people remember exactly the importance of the holiday.
“Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day on not a day off,” Harrington said. “It is a day to honor a man who stood for equal rights. Not just for blacks, not just for the whites, but for everyone. We should all take the time to sit down and tell our children and our youth the history of this brave man so that he is remembered.”