Celebrating a legacy: America looks forward

Associated Press

In this Aug. 28, 1963, photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addresses marchers during his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

The Washington NAACP celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life on Sunday, amid a backdrop of national discord.

Dr. Andrew Goudy, president of the local chapter, addressed that discord during his opening remarks.

“The past year has been a challenging one,” he said during the Zoom event. Goudy mentioned the high-profile deaths of African-American citizens George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol 12 days ago, the coronavirus pandemic, “and now we’re dealing with an impeachment.”

“I’ve asked myself, ‘What would Martin Luther King do today if he experienced this?’”

The response, undoubtedly, would have been to promote peace and adopt the theme of the late afternoon/early evening tribute: “We’ll be all right.”

This is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when the nation marks the 92nd birthday of the iconic American civil rights leader slain in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. He is widely known for his “I Have a Dream” speech and for being a proponent of peace.

The branch’s annual celebration was conducted virtually for the first time because of COVID-19, but it packed as much power, hope and love as it usually does. There was music, poetry, readings from three high school students – and a mighty message from Tim Stevens.

Stevens is chairman and chief executive officer of the social services organization B-PEP and a former president of the Pittsburgh NAACP. He said that when he was preparing for this event, he spoke with Goudy and the Rev. Eugene Beard, pastor of Nazareth Baptist Church in Washington.

“At the time, none of us thought we would see something like this in our lifetimes: an attack on the Capitol of the United States of America to overturn a hard-won victory,” Stevens said. “T-shirts promoting white supremacy.

“We never thought we’d see an insurrection in the name of so-called patriotism. We never thought we’d see a sitting president (Donald Trump) be the provocateur, one who lost by seven million votes.”

“Now we fear what may happen in upcoming days locally in Washington, D.C. Will we be all right?”

Stevens said Congress members “showed the strength of the nation” when, after having official certification of the presidential election disrupted by the mayhem, returned hours later to complete their task.

“Yes, we will be all right,” Stevens said assuredly. “Our nation withstood a test and stands tall. The cavalry is on its way to protect the capitol,” he added, referring to the Wednesday inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

“We have a president coming in who has demonstrated more leadership than the incumbent president has shown since the coronavirus arrived. Yes, we will be all right. What each of us must do in 2021 is to make sure we are all right.”

Washington High School students Michael Mundia and Cayleigh Brown, and Canon-McMillan's Rueben Brock, each related a story about King. Cayleigh, a sophomore, recounted one about the civil rights leader barely surviving a knife attack, but continuing to preach peace; Michael, a senior, talked about a letter with a strong message that King wrote while in jail; and Rueben, a junior, read from the reverend's speech "What is Your Life's Blueprint."

Washington Mayor Scott Putnam called King “a visionary, a proponent of nonviolence. He was dedicated to promoting justice in the United States and around the world.”

Today, he will be honored around the nation for that dedication.

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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