Community honors Dr. King and local humanitarians at annual award service
Jaha Avery may have spent much of last year encouraging the community to re-elect President Barack Obama, but the Asheville native got her start in the church. Avery, a University of Chapel Hill grad, is the niece of Dr. Nilous Avery, pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church. She was also the featured speaker Sunday at the 36th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration and Humanitarian Awards Day service.
At 27, Avery is likely the youngest keynote speaker in the history of the annual event, Nilous Avery said after the event.
She took a leave of absence from law school to volunteer for the Obama re-election campaign. Avery spoke about being an “original thinker” and not a mirror image or “echo” of someone else’s ideas and words.
The event was also an opportunity to honor individuals for the annual Humanitarian Awards. This year’s recipients were Evangelist Vicky R. Hyman, Salisbury Attorney Jeff Morris and the Buffalo Soldiers, Greater North Carolina Chapter.
Avery told the story of the Greek mythological character, Echo, whose speech was taken away as punishment and who was only left with the ability to repeat the words of others.
“Try to imagine that — the thoughts you had and the words you had would only be that of others,” she said.
She talked about “Curing the Echo Syndrome.”
Avery said this “syndrome” is seen in schools across the nation in the form of bullying.
She proposed three ways to cure the syndrome was by jubilee, education and community outreach.
“Jubilee begins with the presence of God’s spirit,” she said.
She said education was a privilege that was, “prayed over, cried over and marched for.”
“Education lays the strong foundation that can never be shaken,” she said.
Avery said it would take the community to make a difference.
“When people act, schools are built,” she said.
Avery said she considered it an honor to speak at her uncle’s church and to the Salisbury community.
“We have a lot to learn from the generation that came before us,” she said.
It’s up to this generation to continue what the previous generation built upon, Avery said.
“The previous generation really had so many obstacles and barriers before them that have been torn down. That’s a blessing that should be an inspiration for us to continue in this race,” she said.
Nilous Avery said he always feels as though this weekend’s events are a springboard, sort of a way to set the tone for the entire year.
“There seems to be a resurgence of people’s desire to have an impact on the community,” said Dr. Nilous Avery, pastor of Mount Zion.
Each Humanitarian award recipient shared some piece of their life and how appreciative they were for receiving the award.
Vicky Hyman, of Salisbury, began volunteering in the community right out of high school, she said.
She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than 20 years ago, but hasn’t let that stop her from visiting the sick in nursing homes and hospitals in the community.
“No matter what it looks like, God has brought me a long way. I thank the Lord every day,” she said.
Hyman, who is wheelchair bound, said it’s a blessing to be able to do things for yourself.
She doesn’t let her wheelchair keep her from uplifting and encouraging others.
Morris, a local attorney, is also a Spencer alderman.
Morris told the audience he was first made aware of the impact of King on the community and of the civil rights movement when he was five years old.
It was just after King was assassinated and a man stopped by his family’s home, rejoicing that King had been killed, Morris said.
His mother, Brenda, told the man to leave. A young Jeff asked his mother what it all meant. His mother told him, “not everybody believes we are all created in God’s image,” Morris said.
Those words have stayed with him in a time where he can’t understand why people still can’t believe, “we are all created in God’s image,” Morris said.
On behalf of the Buffalo Soldiers, Richard Kingsberry, a member of the Greater North Carolina Chapter, accepted the award.
The Buffalo Soldiers is a patriotic military service organization. The members share the story of the Buffalo Soldiers in schools, churches or anywhere people are interested in hearing about this part of American history.
Music was a big part of this year’s celebration with choirs and liturgical dances throughout the evenings event.
The North Rowan Connection Friends & Family Mass Choir performed along with the North Rowan Connection 100 Men in Black choir. The choirs got everyone on their feet as they sang “Jesus is Love,” a ballad made popular by the Commodores, and the toe tapping, “Blessing Me.” Both choirs are directed by Milton Griffith.
Before the event got underway, the crowd was at the edge of their seats for UNITY, a creative expression ministry of Mount Zion. The group, which included young children took to the front of the sanctuary, fans in hand and a sway in their step. The women and children, some with church hats on, glided across the floor.
The ABC Mime Ministry, made up of local young men, also performed.
The J.C. Price American Legion Post 107 along with the West Rowan High JROTC helped usher in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The 2012-2013 recipients of the Dr. Samuel R. Johnson and Dr. Eva H. Johnson Scholarship Award are:
• Serena Garner Cowan, graduate of Salisbury High, now attending North Carolina A&T State University, majoring in mass communications.
• Joshua Emanuel Howell, graduate of North Rowan High, now attending Shaw University, majoring in Elementary Education
• Kenyata Thomas, graduate of North Rowan High, now attending Winston-Salem State University, majoring in international business.
The Johnsons were instrumental in helping establish the King celebration activities, which includes Sunday’s evening service and the annual humanitarian prayer breakfast.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.