“Stop surviving and start living,” says speaker at MLK Banquet in Danville | Local News
SEAN BARKER Special to the register and the bee
As part of a three-day celebration honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., the Danville and Pittsylvania County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference hosted its annual MLK Banquet on Saturday.
Held at the Stratford Conference Center, the event was preceded by a Youth Spelling Bee on Friday evening and – despite an impending winter storm – was to be followed by the Stop The Killing Candlelight Walk on Sunday.
The Reverend William A. Keen, president of the Virginia Southern Christian Leadership Conference, explained that one of the main purposes of the series of events is “to try to educate young people in the Kingian perspective of non-action. violent.
“We try to put the movement in context,” he said in an interview before the banquet.
Keen further emphasized the importance of ensuring that the history of the civil rights movement is taught by the people who lived through it and know it intimately. He noted that many of King’s most iconic quotes are often taken out of context and twisted for purposes that have nothing to do with his true heritage or the lived experience that inspired his lyrics.
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“America has the opportunity to rise above racism and oppression, if you allow our institutions to educate our people,” he said.
A focus on educating, promoting and empowering young people was a recurring theme throughout the evening.
Ten-year-old Aniyah Stockton, a fifth-grade student at Mount Olivet Elementary School in Henry County, won Friday night’s spelling bee and was further honored to sing a snippet of ‘Lift Ev’ ry Voice and Sing” at the opening of Saturday Banquet.
“Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” is an anthem written by famous African-American writer James Weldon Johnson and has been considered the black national anthem since the NAACP declared it in 1919.
“We are here to raise leaders who embody truth, freedom, justice and equality – not wolves in sheep’s clothing,” Keen said in describing the purpose of the event. “It’s time for us to be real leaders,” Keen said.
A series of greetings were given by members of the community. Former Danville Mayor Sherman Saunders spoke on behalf of Danville City Council and urged Councilman Larry Campbell Jr. to join him as he walked to the podium.
“Long before the 1800s, our wrestling existed,” Saunders said. “Now is not the time to relax.”
Saunders said the threat of the pandemic is real, “but so is the threat to the progress we’ve fought for.”
National SCLC Board Member Donna Waddell praised participants for their participation despite the threat of COVID-19, emphasizing the importance of staying involved.
“We are once again witnessing an effort to disenfranchise African Americans,” she said. “Never fall asleep at the wheel.”
David King, President of the George Washington High School Student Council Association, continued on this theme.
“We have to make sure our history is not forgotten,” King said. “We have to keep fighting because the fight is not over yet.”
After the greetings were over, Bullock then returned for a robust solo performance of “Blessed Assurance”, during which he shared via musical ad libs he survived a heart attack and triple bypass surgery four years ago. year. The crowd showed enthusiastic support for Bullock as he intertwined messages of hope and faith between athletically performed song lyrics.
In keeping with the evening’s theme of youth empowerment, the keynote address was delivered by Ishmael Muhammad, a graduate of Winston Salem State University, described in his introduction as a member of “Generation Z”.
Muhammad is also an alumnus of George Washington High School and Danville Community College, where he studied to become an emergency medical technician. During this time, he was a junior member of the Danville Rescue Team and secretary of CDC’s Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society Chapter.
Muhammad became a member of the Tau Sigma Honor Society at Winston Salem State University, where he studied biology and graduated magna cum laude. He is continuing his studies in cell biology.
Muhammad, a member of the Nation of Islam, gave an impassioned speech urging the public to “stop surviving and start living”. He stressed the importance of pointing young people in the right direction, saying “the minds of our children are the future workshop”.
Muhammad lamented the epidemic of homicides against black men.
“When young people aren’t guided, you get results like what we’re going through right now,” he said. He noted that homicide is the leading cause of death among black men ages 1-19. years and from 20 to 44 years.
“You became psychologically deficient because you didn’t value yourself, you didn’t know your history,” Muhammad said. “Most of you don’t even have a dream. You didn’t know you could have a dream.”
Muhammad called for a re-education of black youth, saying the absence of truth leads individuals to be controlled.
“When you’re working on lies, you can’t function at all,” he said.
His passion seemed contagious, inspiring Keen to deliver remarks recounting the recent sale of the last black-owned bank in Virginia, Movement Bank, to non-black buyers.
“We had it in our hands,” Keen lamented. “But because of the attitude we have towards each other, you sold a bank that survived the Great Depression, survived bailouts.”
Based in Atlanta, Georgia, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is an African-American civil rights organization founded in 1957. King served as its first president.