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Salisburians honor King's work

By Paris Goodnight

Salisbury Post

As speakers were remembering the words and works of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Sunday, they noted the civil rights leader’s call to something more: action.

One concrete example, mentioned first at the 30th annual celebration marking King’s birthday by the Rev. Bill Godair, would be to have a street in Salisbury named for King.

Mary Ponds, the mayor of Granite Quarry, was apparently the first to bring up the idea for consideration and other speakers mentioned it would be a visible success if a street could could bear King’s name before next year’s gathering that also serves as a humanitarian awards day.

The street should be “somewhere in the city, but not back in a corner where it can’t be seen,” noted the Rev. Dr. Nilous M. Avery II, host pastor at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

Salisbury City Councilman Pete Kennedy, who was among dignitaries gathered, even offered a possible street to get King’s name: Long Street, which runs through East Spencer.

But the challenge to get an MLK street was only one way mentioned that people could live up to the ideals that King promoted during his time at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Erma Jefferies, mayor of East Spencer, noted that those of different ethnicities and backgrounds who gathered Sunday for the event created a portrait reflecting the fruit of King’s labors.

That look back to the sacrifice of others was also highlighted by keynote speaker Cheryl Silver-Emanuel, who asked that those in the audience born after the 1960s to stand and thank the older folks who went through what many of the younger generation could hardly imagine.

“I’m grateful to the elders for being here,” she said.

Silver-Emanuel, who works to reduce health disparities among minorities through her job in Mecklenburg County, described being born in one of the state’s poorest counties but always hearing from older mentors that she could succeed at whatever she put her mind to, with the help of God.

That continues to remind her as she travels life’s road to “pull someone else along with you.”

She got a taste of being a public figure on health issues when a doctor who was supposed to speak didn’t show up on time for an event. She was forced to take the microphone with material that she knew well but wasn’t prepared to speak about. “God was trying to position me,” she said. “When you’ve been called, you’ve got to go along.”

She said King had that inner urge from God, calling him to do great things. But she said he also had quiet time alone in prayer, which she urged others to follow. She quoted the teachings from Matthew in the Bible about finding a place where God can speak to you — and you can hear without the distractions from the outside world.

She also described an encounter in Charlotte with a dirty, hurting, homeless man who she tried to offer help. She said she only had $2, but offered the man $1 of that. He told her he was more interested in her using the money to plant a church that was about rebuilding lives.

He told her, “When you stopped, you didn’t know me, but I knew you.”

He offered her encouragement and as she had later encounters with the same man, everything that he told her would happen eventually came to pass. “The last time I saw him, he told me, ‘God has transformed you for leadership.’ He told me I’d grown up.”

That man, who was like a prophet on a street corner to her, was killed by a drunken driver. Silver-Emanuel said his story was told by the newspaper and television stations in Charlotte. It also helped solidify for her the truth that life is short. “We all have a call. Don’t be afraid to step into your calling,” she said. “Pay attention to signs as God is speaking to you.”

***

This year’s honorees for the Humanitarian Service Award are:

* the Rev. Henry Diggs, an Alabama native who was president of the Human Relations Council, led sensitivity training for Salisbury city employees and continues to work with Project SAFE on gun safety.

* Ben Neal, a deacon and teacher at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

* Barbara Neely, a retired educator who continues her teaching efforts as a math instructor at Livingstone, and who started a partnership with Panera Bread to deliver bread as a ministry to the needy.

* Salisbury Community Development Corp., the nonprofit organization led by Chanaka Yatawara that works in neighborhood revitilization through home ownership.

Youth essay contest winners read their works and the Samuel R. Johnson Jr. Memorial Scholarship winners, which were listed in Saturday’s Post, were also honored.

Contact Paris Goodnight at 704-797-4255 or pgoodnight@ salisburypost.com.

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