RUSTBURG — The Campbell County branch of the NAACP presented its 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration Monday (MLK Day Observed) at Rustburg High School. This year’s theme was “Don’t Just Dream It — Live It.” The event featured special speakers, MLK trivia, and rousing music from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Choir.
Serving as mistress of ceremony this year was Barbara LaPrade, manager of Jefferson Funeral Home in Brookneal. The Rev. Detrick L. Robertson, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Altavista, provided the keynote address.
One of the highlights of the annual event has become James Jones’ rendition of a King speech. He recites them from memory and with studied inflection matching the original King delivery. Jones has a large repertoire of speeches memorized; this year, he presented another one of his outstanding interpretations, this time “How Long? Not Long — Our God Is Marching On.
King originally had delivered this address in March 1965 in Montgomery, Ala., in front of the state capitol building, following the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. “The battle is in our hands,” Jones quoted King. “And we can answer with creative nonviolence the call to higher ground to which the new directions of our struggle summons us. The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going.”
Jones also proclaimed in King’s words, “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.” The address closed with a quote from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Each year at the event, youth orators deliver addresses about King. This year marked the absence of perennial participants, sisters Riana and Anyla Freeman, whom it was noted are currently in Israel on a missions trip. This year, the lone youth orator was Maya Lewis, a junior honors student at Heritage High School. Lewis is also the reigning Miss Virginia Elks.
The keynote speaker, the Rev. Detrick Robertson, is pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Altavista. The North Carolina native began preaching at 15. He served as a religious programing specialist in the U.S. Navy, has earned a degree in theology from Liberty University, and currently studies at the seminary there. He also is a chaplain candidate in the U.S. Army Reserves.
Robertson’s message, “I Won’t Bend, and I Won’t Bow,” came from the biblical text of Daniel chapter 3, concerning the incident of the three Hebrew princes and the fiery furnace.
“Cowardice is only a habit, and by doing the things that scare us, we can destroy stereotypes,” he explained. He also observed, “by doing the things that scare us, we discover that bravery is also a habit.” Replace cowardice with bravery, he exhorted.
“Do the three young men choose fear or bravery? Bow or stay strong for God? It was no real dilemma for them. They had seen their God in action, and they knew exactly Who was in charge. … They refused to bow and bend to the political pressures…. They were okay with serving the king as long as it didn’t come in the way of serving their God,” he exposited.
“Bravery was a lifestyle for them, even in the face of death. They were willing to die for what they believed in. Serving their God meant more to them than pleasing the people around them. They were not concerned about the new ways or the fact that everyone else around them was bowing.”
Connecting the biblical account with the famous 20th century leader, Robertson explained, “As they faced adversity head on, so did Martin Luther King. He knew what it was like to face people who hated him based on the color of his skin. He believed in God and knew that God had created them all. It all started with dirt. I don’t know how black dirt can look at white dirt, and white dirt can look at black dirt, and they can say ‘I’m better than you,’ when we all come from the same dirt.”
Robertson concluded, “Dr. King chose what was pleasing in the sight of God. He chose to love his neighbor, even if they were threatening his life and his family. Today we remember his legacy and birth. May we stand with him, may we stand with the Hebrew boys, and may we stand with the God of Israel.” Robertson prayed for love and unity.
Featured prominently on the stage were portraits of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., inscribed with his quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” That quote proved to be more than words on paper on Monday, as they captured the overall atmosphere of the entire program.
For the full story and a related big photo package, be sure to pick up a copy of the Jan. 22 print edition of The Altavista Journal. It’s available NOW on newsstands throughout the greater Altavista area and all around Campbell County.