MLK's message still resonates

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 9, 2011

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
Even as a 13-year-old, Ethel Bamberg-Revis knew what she had heard was something historic.
“I will never forget that day, not ever,” says Bamberg-Revis, now a staff chaplain at the Hefner VA Medical Center in Salisbury.
“Every time I hear it, it means so much.”
On the morning of Aug. 28, 1963, Bamberg-Revis rode on a bus from New Jersey to the huge civil rights demonstration being held on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Later that day she heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
His massive audience, she remembers, was eerily quiet.
“There was no fidgeting,” she says. “We hung on every word, like he was feeding us the greatest meal we had ever eaten.”
She especially recalls seeing the tears stream down the faces of older men and women of color who had tolerated so much of the discrimination and racial injustices of their times.
The whole feeling among people in the crowd that day was unusual — “you can’t really explain it,” Bamberg-Revis says. But she remembers a sense of connection, a bonding with total strangers.
After King’s speech was over, there was a hush, she adds, and groups such as hers started making their way back to the church vans and buses that had brought them to Washington.
Bamberg-Revis went with a group from her home N.J. church, Hopewell Baptist, whose pastor also was president of an NAACP branch. Her older sister went along, as did other members of the church’s youth group.
Members of this particular pilgrimage left for Washington at 4 a.m., were in their places on the Mall about 9:30 a.m. and spent the rest of the day waiting for King.
They returned to New Jersey the same day.
Bamberg-Revis, chairwoman of the 2011 MLK Jr. Birthday Committee at the Hefner VA Medical Center, can still tell you the spot on the mall from where she heard the King speech.
On Sunday night in Building 6’s Social Room at the VA, the Rev. Lester Smith, who works in vocational rehabilitation at the hospital, read King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
His audience: veterans going through the chow line and eating supper as part of a quarterly visit of the District VFW.
When Smith first started reading, there was a lot of background noise connected to the dinner. But the more King’s words flowed from Smith, the quieter the room became.
By the time he finished, Smith had a captive audience, one that applauded as King’s last words were still hanging in the air.
King himself had referred to that day in Washington as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of the nation. Smith said great strides in civil rights have been made since 1963, but not all of King’s dreams have been fulfilled.
He urged everyone in the room to work together, struggle together and pray together — “so we can live together.”
Smith’s reading of the “I Have a Dream” speech was supposed to be part of a candlelight march between the VA Chapel and Building 6, a way to kick off a week full of activities leading up to the King holiday next Monday.
But not enough people showed up to carry the battery-powered candles, so Bamberg-Revis, Lester Smith and retiree Cal Smith (a Vietnam veteran and outpatient at the medical center) decided to march themselves to Building 6 and share the speech with the VFW group.
Here are some of the other activities planned this week at the VA:
• Monday — Rowan–Salisbury School System students will read their award-winning essays in Chapel Building 19 at 6 p.m.
Topics are: Elementary school, “How do You Choose Your Friends?”; middle school, “What Does the Dream Mean to You?”; and high school, “Living the Dream in a Multi-Cultural Society.”
• Tuesday — Poetry Slam at 5:30 p.m. Poets from the community and employees will use the open-microphone forum to present their poetry selections. Readings may be original poetry or from selected poets.
• Thursday — Employees and community residents debate at 6 p.m. in the chapel. The topic is, “Progress Report on the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”
Discussion will include: “Have we completed the elements of the dream?” and will highlight the successes and barriers to fulfilling the dream.
• Friday — The public is invited to attend a special program, “The Unfinished Dream” at 1:30 p.m. in the social room of Building 6. Keynote speaker is Dr. Reginal Broadnax of Hood Theological Seminary.
For more information about any of these events, contact Chaplain Bamberg-Revis, at 704-638-3330 or log on to www.salisbury.va.gov.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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