Editorial: A challenge for everyone

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 22, 2008

For a holiday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day generates a lot of work. And inspiration.
At least two of Salisbury’s recent King Day observances drew packed houses: the celebration Sunday at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and the breakfast Monday at the Salisbury Civic Center. We don’t know what’s going on in other cities, but enthusiasm for a day honoring Dr. King grows each year in Salisbury. Instead of fading into history, his message of hope and equality spreads further each year.
Maybe that’s because his message is needed as much as ever. The blatant signs of racism are gone ó colored water fountains, segregated schools, black people forced to ride in the back of the bus, literally and figuratively. But poverty, ignorance and distrust are ever-present, the shameful legacy of the Jim Crow South. Sometimes people self-destruct; all too often they are pushed down.
Mayor Susan Kluttz deserves credit for bringing issues of diversity and fairness to the forefront in Salisbury. She made sure city staff members had diversity training. She has held spirit luncheons, traveled to Mexico with the Latino Initiative. And when the clash of two gangs led to the death of 13-year-old Treasure Feamster last year, Kluttz stepped right up and said Salisbury had to act to save its young people. Now.
Under the leadership of Rick Anicetti, Food Lion has also made diversity something to be valued. They say you can tell people’s priorities by looking at their checkbooks. In addition to events like Monday’s breakfast, the Food Lion checkbook has entries for a strong diversity program that helps set the tone for life in Salisbury.
And then there is Arnold Chamberlain, the chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners who confessed something at the King observances that many others hide. Growing up as a Southern white boy, he said, he didn’t immediately appreciate the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But he does now. Chamberlain speaks for thousands. His is a refreshing dose of honesty ó one that might nudge others toward the realization that all people deserve respect and fair treatment.
The Salisbury-Rowan Human Relations Council, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, the Hefner V.A. Medical Center and many others work hard to hold King Day observances that move the community forward. They certainly succeeded this year. Speakers challenged community members to roll up their sleeves and get to work ó to be extremists for racial reconciliation, citizenship and social justice, to reach out as role models to children in need.
Sadly, racism is alive and well. Like the villain in a movie, it has a way of stirring back to life just when you thought it might have breathed its last. But the forces for good in Salisbury are considerable, and they are growing. With strong leaders showing the way, we are inching forward. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day reminds us to push on.