By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO January 16, 2001 - Although Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the nationally famous clergyman and civil rights leader, was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee while planning a multiracial Poor Peoples March for antipoverty legislation in 1968, his dreams of nonviolent activism are still alive.
On Saturday, members of the Sullivan County Million Man March Community Action Group (MCAG) and their Committee of Sisters sponsored a Martin Luther King Day celebration in the Monticello Middle School auditorium.
Olivia Armstrong, a local poet and performance artist, served as master of ceremonies. The efforts of Armstrong and those joining in the celebration of Dr. Kings memory served as notice that the flame of his spirit burns brightly among the local black community and its youth.
Following an opening prayer by Mother Curtis, the Rev. LeMay Little addressed the assemblage. L. Monique, a poet/spoken word artist who recently moved to Kauneonga Lake from NYC, then presented several of her cut-to-quick works.
Following Monique, the poetic voice of Armstrong came alive as several young people recited her works, in addition to their own poetry.
The spirited Monticello Step Team performed synchronized numbers on the boards, and the Jackson Brothers and Thomas Little received well-deserved applause for their West African drumming.
Noted local playright and producer Oliver King presented a riveting solo rendition of Dr. Kings immortal speech I Have a Dream.
The legacy of this civil rights leader is perhaps the legacy of the black race in our country, said King before giving life to Dr. Kings stirring words about the Emancipation Proclamation: . . . It came as a joyous daybreak to end their long nights of captivity, but one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free . . .
As the audience sat enraptured by Dr. Kings message, it was almost as if the listeners were transported back in time to the days when Dr. King (1929-68) first gained national prominence by advocating passive resistance to segregation and a year-long boycott against the segregated bus lines in Montgomery, Alabama.
Dr. King later established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a base for nonviolent marches, protests and demonstrations for black rights, such as the 1963 march on the nations capital and the 1965 voter-registration drive in Selma, Alabama.
In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Today, he is remembered as one of the worlds most inspirational orators in the search for peaceful conflict resolution and racial understanding.
Adding her own thoughts to the days events, Sandy Oxford of Ulster Sullivan Mediation, the guest speaker, talked about the concept and implementation of poetic justice.
In a contemporary sense, Dr. King brought to life something that was part of a long history of nonviolent activism, she said. Another part of his dream was a beloved community . . . the power and passion of the soul-force is at the heart of nonviolent activism.
According to Oxford, nonviolence is a state of love . . . [and] is for the strong and the brave.
She spoke about the power of the circle (a Native American tradition) as a way to resolve conflicts and bring communities together. Oxford described the three Rs of the circle as respect, responsibility and recipro-city.
During the open mike segment of the celebration, several members of the local Afro-American community addressed the audience, including Vernon Gibson, president of the Sullivan County chapter of the NAACP, who talked about the importance of voter registration and membership in the organization.
Tacuma Roeback, an Orange County government reporter, gave a speech based upon his work entitled Head Coach, saying that, when people follow the voice of their own inner coach, everything becomes golden.
That some would call a man as great as Dr. King a nigger [is unacceptable], but each and every day we run around calling ourselves niggers, bitches and hos, said Kusar Grace of Liberty, in speaking directly to the problems he sees caused by lyrics and messages promoted by some recording artists in rap and hip-hop music.
He laid his life down for us, for all African-Americans to be proud of themselves, not looked down on as niggers, he added. We must take these negative images off ourselves. We must take our children back . . . lets stop referring to ourselves as Niggers in the Neighborhood. He would roll over in his grave!
Margie McClinton of Monticello, born in Rock Hill, S.C., was 15 years old when she marched alongside Dr. King throughout the South.
In recalling the fallen civil rights leader, McClinton said, He was a lovely man . . . he didnt believe in any kind of violence.
I enjoyed doing what I thought was right, she said of her days on the picket lines.
The MCAG celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Day concluded with MCAG Chair Jesse York and Oliver King joining voices to lead the audience in singing Lift Every Voice and Sing.
Asked what Martin Luther King Day means to him, York replied, A day of celebrating what he has done for us and keeping what he died for alive . . . keeping the faith going.