Speaker: Obama inspires hope

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Elizabeth Cook
One man cannot do everything, but President-elect Barack Obama has achieved something before he even takes the oath of office, according to Dr. Gregory K. Moss of Charlotte.
“The spirit of the Lord is moving through him because he has the ability to give people hope,” Moss told a nearly full house at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Salisbury Sunday.
“When people have hope, when people are inspired, we don’t need laws to make them do what’s right.”
Moss spoke at the 32nd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration and Humanitarian Awards Day ó a service of greetings, music and messages to honor the slain civil rights leader.
Moss, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, decried the violence that pervades American society, from senseless shootings to the nation’s involvement in two wars.
King, in contrast, embraced non-violence, saying the concept of an eye for an eye left people blind.
“There is a tie between poverty and violence,” Moss said.
When a large portion of people have no hope, and the only light they can see at the end of the tunnel is a train heading their way, he said, that’s what you get ó violence.
It’s not a color problem, he said. And there’s no need for a redistribution of wealth, as some have criticized Obama for advocating. What the nation needs, Moss said, is a way to level the playing field and make opportunity available to all.
“We’ve got to find a way to help people have hope and let them know they have value.”
Obama is not painting a rosy picture for voters, Moss said. The president-elect has warned that the days ahead will be difficult. But Obama gives people confidence. “We can pull ourselves out of this ditch,” Moss said.
Once when King was signing books in Harlem in 1958, a woman stabbed him with a letter opener. The doctors who treated King said the opener lodged in his chest near his aorta in such a way that he may have died if he sneezed, Moss said.
Afterward, King received well wishes from countless people, but was most impressed by the letter of a child who said, “I’m so glad you didn’t sneeze.”
Raising his voice, Moss said he too was glad King didn’t sneeze.
If King had sneezed, he might never have been there to help Rosa Parks and lead the Montgomery bus boycott, Moss said.
If he had sneezed, blacks might still be suffocating under the blanket of Jim Crow laws and might never have gotten the right to vote, he said. There would be no Barack Obama about to become the 44th president of the United States.
And, if King had sneezed, “we may have never been here today to celebrate across the color line.”
Obama’s name came up almost as much as King’s in the celebration, with participants including him in prayers and comments.
“Dr. King was our Moses,” said Mary Ponds, mayor of Granite Quarry. “Obama is our Joshua. He is going to take us to the promised land.”
She later added, “Obama needs us. He can’t do it alone.”
Others bringing greetings were Lorene Coates, state House member; Paul Woodson, mayor pro tem of Salisbury; Carl Ford, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners; Erma Jefferies, mayor of East Spencer; Dr. Rick Stephens, provost at Catawba College, and Dr. Stanley Elliott, vice president for student affairs at Livingstone College.
All expressed the need for harmony.
“It’s not about race,” Ford said. “It’s about God’s amazing grace.”
Deacon Dixie Dalton said the first King celebration and awards day was held on Jan. 15, 1978, with the Ba-Lu Choir singing and Mt. Zion’s pastor at the time, the Rev. S.R. Johnson, presiding.
Through the years, the service has changed some, she said, drawing a chuckle when she said it was not as long as it used to be.
The Rev. Nilous Avery, current pastor at Mt. Zion, described his predecessor as a giant in the community. Johnson initiated the King Birthday Celebration and Humanitarian Awards Day, the Human Relations Council and the King day breakfast, Avery said.
And if anyone complained to Johnson that the King Day service was too long, it didn’t matter, Avery said. He did it the way he wanted.