Published 12:00 am Friday, February 10, 2012
By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone CollegeNews Service
SALISBURY — People shouldn’t be afraid to go into deep places — even if it means getting away from that with which they’re familiar.
So said the Rev. Dr. Haywood T. Gray on Thursday when he delivered the keynote address at Livingstone College’s Annual Founder’s Day ceremony, which celebrates the life of Dr. Joseph Charles Price.
Price, who was born in Elizabeth City in 1854, was president of Livingstone College for 10 years until his death in 1893. He was known as a brilliant scholar, great gospel preacher, world famous orator and advocate for the common man. His hope for the future was epitomized in his famous quote: “I do not care how dark the night; I believe in the coming of the morning.”
Gray, executive secretary-treasurer of the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Inc., gave a rousing address that was more like a sermon and was peppered with applause and shouts of, “Amen.” When he finished speaking, the Varick Auditorium audience members rose to their feet.
Gray spoke of not being afraid to go into deep places after quoting Luke 5:5, when Jesus instructed Simon Peter and other fishermen to go deeper into the water in search of fish — despite the fact that they’d just spent all night fishing but caught nothing.
“Notice the instructions the Lord gave the frustrated fisherman,” Gray said. “Go out in the deep water. You’ve been too long in the familiar waters. Go out into the deep.”
Then Gray asked the audience whether they could relate.
“How familiar is Peter’s dilemma to you?” Gray asked. “Have you ever given something the best of your effort and the best of your effort wasn’t good enough? Have you ever had your dreams crashing before your eyes and your hopes dashed into 1,000 pieces? Have you ever tried to be an agent of change and progress but been beaten back by the status quo? We do not like deep places because deep places frighten us. We would much rather hang around in the shallow places because they are familiar to us.”
Being willing to tread into deep places can have favorable consequences, Gray said.
“You may find your miracle in deep places,” he said. “After Jesus instructed them to go into deep waters, the first time they cast their net they pulled in a great draw of fish. If you’re afraid to go into deep places you might well miss your mission. Also, you may find your message in deep places. If you’re afraid to venture into deep places … young people, you might miss the miracle of being the first in your family, or your neighborhood or your community to graduate.”
During his address, Gray shared a poignant story about a single mother of three who worked two jobs but struggled to make ends meet. Two of her children had sickle cell anemia, and one of them eventually was hospitalized. Gray sometimes visited him so his mother could work. During one visit the boy was in immense pain, and when Gray asked what he could do to ease his suffering, the boy asked for some cookies.
Gray drew laughter as he spoke of burning two batches of cookies before finally baking some that were edible.
“A great and wonderful smile came upon his face when he smelled the cookies,” Gray said. “Sometimes you find your mission, your purpose in deep places. Fear not. You won’t hear that message in shallow places. I know sometimes you want to give up, but fear not. But fear not needs a foundation. Fear not needs some pillars upon which it can rest. Fear not needs a leaning post upon which to lean. Fear not needs something to undergird it with strength and truth and power.”
Gray, of Raleigh, has been preaching for 36 years and estimates he’s given more than 3,900 sermons. The one he gave at Livingstone on Thursday was energetic and carried a powerful message.
After he spoke, Gray was given a Presidential Award by Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr. Members of Livingstone’s board of trustees helped Jenkins present the award.
“Oh, boy. Oh, boy. Oh, boy,” Jenkins said after Gray sat. “Don’t tell me we didn’t have church in here this morning. Words are inadequate for me right now. I just want you to know how proud I am and thankful that you came this morning to give us this message.”
Gray’s speech was followed by the presentation of a special quilt made by Roy Mitchell Jr., who graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Livingstone in 1980.
Mitchell began quilting in 2004 and has become a master quilter. One of his quilts was featured in a publication of The National Quilting Association, making him the first African-American male featured in that publication. And last year one of Mitchell’s quilts was among 15 chosen — from more than 2,000 entries — for the Original Sewing and Quilting Expo, a traveling exhibition. An estimated 500,000 people have viewed Mitchell’s work.
On Thursday, a packed Varick Auditorium witnessed the historic unveiling of Mitchell’s quilt, which features photos of each of Livingstone College’s 12 presidents.
“I am a benefactor of the great Livingstone experience,” Mitchell said before the unveiling. “I wondered what I could give to contribute to my great alma mater, to show a gesture and to say thank you. Then I realized the answer was in my hands.”
After the quilt was unveiled, the audience marveled at its beauty and many headed to the stage after the program to photograph it.
“This will hang on our campus for future generations to see,” Jenkins said. “I’m proud to be the president that history will show was here … when you presented this to the college.”
Thursday’s ceremony also featured the recognition of Rooms To Go General Manager Malcom E. Nightingale, who has facilitated a partnership between the college and the furniture company.
A memorial service at the Price Mausoleum concluded the Founder’s Day ceremony.