By Tina Alvey
A crowd estimated at 320 which gathered in a Lewisburg church sanctuary Monday to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day was treated to a stirring rendition of the late civil rights icon’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Former West Virginia Legislator Arley Johnson electrified those in attendance, who at times recited the more familiar phrases of the famous speech along with him and at other times were spellbound into silence.
After the last syllables of what Johnson referred to as “a literary piece of genius” echoed through the sanctuary, he reminded those gathered together that Dr. King was assassinated only five years after delivering that 1963 speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“He died for these words,” Johnson said.
But, Johnson pointed out, the fulfillment of King’s dream was being played out in the nation’s capital on the very day the man’s 83rd birthday was being officially celebrated.
“I ask that God pull back the curtain (in heaven) and let Martin look out on the Mall in Washington today,” Johnson said.
The nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama, was enjoying the inauguration ceremonies marking the beginning of his second term of office at the same time people in Lewisburg and around the United States were celebrating King’s birthday Monday.
For further proof that King’s dream has become reality, Johnson told the racially diverse people sitting side-by-side in the church pews, “Look around the room. The dream is no longer a dream.”
Johnson currently is based in Washington, where he is the executive director of Advocates for the Other America, an agency that assists in building advocacy coalitions between nonprofits and industrial and trade organizations interested in supporting low income issues and legislation.
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Monday’s program at Lewisburg United Methodist Church also included readings by the winners of the annual student essay competition, which attracted 117 entries this year from Eastern Greenbrier Middle School, Greenbrier Episcopal School and Frankford, Lewisburg and Mountain View elementary schools.
The Greenbrier Academy for Girls’ African Drum & Dance Corps set the tone for the event with an exhilarating performance as the audience was seated.
Also offering uplifting musical performances were Clemenceau Allen, principal chief emeritus of the Appalachian American Indians of West Virginia; Andre Williams of Rupert; and the Praise and Worship Team from the Alderson Federal Prison Camp.
Students involved in the leadership programs of High Rocks for Girls, which serves Pocahontas, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties, read a progressive essay delineating their own dreams for the country’s future and sang a song they had written to honor Dr. King.
Larry Davis and Daniel Seams served as the event’s emcees.
The day’s celebration began with more than 100 people, including a large contingent of school children, marching behind a banner that proclaimed, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The march began at 11 a.m. at the Greenbrier County Courthouse and ended at Lewisburg United Methodist Church, where a community meal was served prior to the afternoon program.
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