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MLK Humanitarian Awards Celebration speaker encourages faith in the midst of fear

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had to face fears and in the 48 years since his April 1968 assassination, this generation is still facing new fears. But, as the Rev. Dr. Leonzo Lynch reminded every listener inside Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday, “faith is strong enough to fight back any fear in your life.”

Lynch, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Charlotte and the brother of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, was the guest speaker at the 40th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration and Humanitarian Awards Day celebration.

Leonzo Lynch united storytelling with biblical principles, historical events with a number of life lessons applicable to both the “civil rights generation” and the “Millennial generation.”

He spoke about faith in the midst of fear, joking that faith was one of those good church words that “some of us hope if we speak of it often, folks will think we have some.”

“We celebrate today the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other unnamed heroes. The civil rights movement was not just about color, it was about humanity,” he said.

He said when Dr. King died, he was trying to reconnect the gospel of Jesus Christ to social action.

“Dr. King had to face fears. In 2017, we are facing new fears, but fear is still fear,” Lynch said.

“Fear will keep you from marching. Fear will keep you from thinking. Fear will keep you from speaking. Fear will keep you from acting,” he said.

“Fear will get everybody at sometime,” Lynch said to the crowd.

He called on the civil rights generation to invest in this generation — the Millennials.

“If we are going to strengthen our community, we have to call a truce between the generations,” Lynch said.

He said the older generation is mad because they marched to open the door for the young people and the young people have picked a different door. Likewise, he said, the younger generation questions if the older generation worked to create change why didn’t they “fix it.”

He encouraged the older generation to teach the youth of today about their history.

“You are living history,” he said of the older generation.

He also suggested they not just talk at the youth, but listen.

“Now they dress a little different. Their clothes don’t fit,” Lynch joked.

“Don’t sell this generation short,” he said.

“What if we decided to reclaim our lost generation of children? What if they decided to stop killing? What if we put church politics out and put saving souls in?” Lynch proposed to the audience.

Lynch also thanked those in attendance for their community service and the sacrifices that were made. This year’s humanitarian honorees were: JC Price Legion Post Adjutant Abe Daniels, East Spencer Alderman and community leader Otis Gibson, the members of Families and Communities Together (F.A.C.T.), and Julian Simmon and his wife the Rev. Debra “Dee” Ellison. All of the honorees were nominated by the community.

The program was created in the late 1970s by Samuel R. Johnson Jr., pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist until his 1991 death. He worked toward equality as well as political, social, economic and religious freedoms and opportunities for others in the community.

A scholarship, the S.R. Johnson Jr. and Eva H. Johnson Memorial Scholarship, is presented each year to rising college freshmen. This year’s recipient was Jaylen Brown, a North Rowan High graduate and freshman at Winston-Salem State University.

Brown was also presented a laptop by former Humanitarian Award honoree Nathan Currie, who now heads North Carolina Connections Academy, the state’s newest virtual public charter school.

“I plan to graduate. I will graduate. I will make an impact in the black community,” Brown declared.

State and local dignitaries were in attendance and spoke briefly including Salisbury Mayor Karen Alexander and East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett as well as Rowan County Commission Chairman Greg Edds and Rowan-Salisbury School System Chairman Josh Wagner.

In addition to local officials, college presidents The Rev. Dr. Vergel Lattimore of Hood Theological Seminary, Dr. Jimmy Jenkins Sr. of Livingstone College and Catawba College president Brien Lewis were also in attendance.

Rowan District Attorney Brandy Cook, other attorneys, city councilmen and county commissioners, law enforcement and area ministers were also in attendance.

This year’s honorees were:

• Abe Daniels

Daniels is a past Legion Post commander and currently serves as adjutant. He served in both the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force for 21 years, retiring as a master sergeant. He has aided in the administration of different Legion projects and events. Daniels has taken the perception of the Legion from club atmosphere to a place that hosts a number of patriotic and community events. He’s also played Santa for Christmas parties and given gifts to deserving children.

• Otis Gibson

Gibson is a graduate of Winston-Salem State University, a former educator and education advocate. He taught for nearly 40 years. He assisted in raising over $30,000 for East Spencer summer camp programs, helped the town secure $600,000 in grant funds for the rehabilitation of Royal Giants Park. He has served on the town board for four years and has served as mayor pro tem. His favorite quote is “You can talk about change or just go ahead and make that change.”

• Families and Communities Together (F.A.C.T.)

The organization was founded in 2012 by then pastor of Soldiers Memorial AME Zion Church, the Rev. Dr. Grant Harrison, the Rev. Mary Hardin, who is an associate minister at Soldiers Memorial; the Rev. Carolyn Bratton, pastor of Moore’s Chapel AME Zion Church as well as Shirley Holt, Albert Neely, James Parks and Larry Jones. The organization was developed as an outreach ministry to address the needs of the residents of Zion Hills Apartments and the Salisbury community. Those in the community have benefited from parenting classes, GED and continuing education, computer classes, health fairs, boys mentoring, school lunch programs and other camps and workshops.

Both Holt and Hardin accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

• Debra Ellison, Julian Simmon

Ellison is pastor of At the Cross Ministries in Salisbury. She holds two masters degrees in religion and organizational management. The couple together have three children. Ellison has been an executive coach, consultant and trainer for various organizations. She is currently an executive management consultant at Diversity Council of the Carolinas. Simmon serves in numerous capacities at the church, including deacon, with the music ministry and food pantry.

“This service has always been a gift to the community. It was started by my predecessor and continues not only the legacy of Dr. King, but focuses on the legacy of people right here,” said Dr. Nilous Avery, pastor Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

He said there’s a lot of good things going on in the community and this awards ceremony is a way to highlight those in the community who are not normally recognized, but who have an impact.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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