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January 21, 2013

A tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

VALDOSTA — The Valdosta-Lowndes County Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Committee hosted the 28th Annual Observance of King on Sunday at Saint Paul A.M.E. Church with the theme A View From the Mountain: Greater Success, Greater Accomplishments and Greater Opportunities.

"Twenty-eight years," said member of St. Paul A.M.E. Yvette Council Waters. "Now much has changed in 28 years."

Waters reflected on pastors that have come and gone, street names that were changed, and even old houses that were moved so that the area on South Ashley Street could be improved.

"And yes, we still have the White House," said Waters. "But in it, is a black president serving his second term with his black spouse."

While President Barack Obama is a symbol of progress and equality, the commemorative committee still exists to symbolize the road ahead and the paver who made the ultimate sacrifice with his life on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tenn.

"The Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Association still makes sure that we never forget the dreamer of the dream," said Waters.

Now revered as a prophet whose legacy will out-extend the longevity of his life, Sunday's program helped to solidify King's place as a person who fought without violence for justice, in the name of equality and what he believed to be God's will.

"He was a people's man, an advocate for all people," said Dr. Beverly Richardson Blake. "A man willing to give his life for you and me."

While Sunday was a point of reflection for the movement King led, the commemoration association also paused to recognize a leader in their own community with the coveted Humanitarian Award.

Recipient Samuel L. Allen is revered by his peers as a champion not just for his people, but for his community. He began his career in education as a student teacher in 1977 at Valdosta Junior High School and continued to move forward in his career through the ranks until he finally rose to serve as Superintendent of the Valdosta City School System. He continues today as Superintendent Emeritus.

While the 2013 Humanitarian Award is only one of Allen's several awards and outstanding achievements, he remains known more for his humility and his service to the community than for his accolades.

Even when accepting his award, Allen did not speak of himself, but rather, took a note from Charles Wesley — an early promoter of black studies — and praised God with a song that brought the chapel full of people to their feet.

St. Paul A.M.E. was again brought to its feet by speaker Rev. Bernard Robinson, Pastor of Greater Pleasant Temple Baptist Church.

"Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is not here, but yet he lives on," said Robinson.

According to Robinson, generations born after 1968 only know King through stories and books. Since King's time, times have changed.

"We are now in a time where people are asking what's in it for me, instead of what's in it for my people?" Robinson asked.

King would suggest that if you don't have anything to die for, you will fall for anything. King had equality and justice to die for, and though he fell at the hands of racism, he continues to rise throughout history as a beacon for those very principles he continues to stand on.

"We have abandoned the bridge that has brought many of us across," said Robinson.

Robinson spoke of gun violence not just nation wide, but in our city. He spoke of wasting resources on what he called "unproductive ventures." But Robinson also spoke of progress. Of coming from nothing, to something, a reality of King's dream.

"His dream has become a reality," said Robinson. "Dr. King made a difference in his day and he is still impacting us today."

While Robinson suggested that difficult days are still ahead, he said we must still reflect on the days behind us.

"His dream is still living on," said Robinson. "We as a people should always know where we came from."

At the end of the program, the chapel full of people gathered hands and walked out singing "We Shall Overcome" as they proceeded to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial next door, where the Rev. Johnnie Cook delivered his benediction.

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