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Humanitarian awards celebrate unity, self-sacrifice

By Rebecca Rider
For the Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — Elsewhere in the country, people are focusing on divisions along party lines, but Sunday afternoon in Salisbury, locals focused on the things that brought them together.

Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church Sunday bestowed a series of five humanitarian awards to county residents who exemplified the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This is the church’s 42nd year hosting the awards ceremony, which honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

And those gathered Sunday viewed it as a personal calling to give of themselves for the betterment of others.

“Never, ever forget it is our — I repeat, our — responsibility to keep the dream alive for the betterment of all people,” said Nicole Avery, first lady of the church.

The event celebrated the life of King, and the hard work done by other great civil rights leaders who helped bring equality to all people. Special presentations included dances by the Mount Zion Dance Ministry Creative Expression and Triple Threat Dance Company, and an original spoken word poem performed by student Robyn Rivers.

Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Paul A. Lowe, Jr., spoke briefly about the life of King, and of the work still to be done.

Lowe is the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, and serves as a state senator representing North Carolina’s 32nd district.

While King made a lot of progress in his life, Lowe said, much of his work was left unfinished.

“We’re still fighting the same fights,” he said.

People are still fighting for access to resources, schools are again leaning towards segregation, legal protections are being rolled back, there is still workplace discrimination and some people are still working multiple jobs to make ends meet. With that in mind, Lowe asked audience members a very important question: “What would Dr. King have us do today?”

While he couldn’t say for sure, Lowe said he had a few ideas. First and foremost, he said, he believed King would encourage people to register to vote.

“You want to see your community change? You want to see your world change? Register and vote,” he said.

He also believed that King would want people to stop tearing each other down, and to join together in the fight against poverty.

“At some point we’ve got to work together so that everyone can flourish,” he said.

Finally, Lowe said, people should work together to “make heaven happy.”

Local elected officials attended the ceremony, and spoke briefly about the importance of speaking against injustice and on the importance of unity. Salisbury Mayor Al Heggins could not attend due to a family emergency, but sent short remarks, which were delivered by city councilwoman Karen Alexander. Heggins said she was proud of her fellow residents for their determination to speak out against things that were wrong or unjust.

“I’m grateful to live and serve in a community that refuses to be silent,” she wrote.

Chair of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, Greg Edds, spoke briefly about the importance of finding things that connect, rather than divide us. Even if people disagreed, he said, it was important that they learned to work together, and to remember “what scripture says — love your neighbor as yourself.”

Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, president of Livingstone College, reminded attendees of a sermon of King’s, where the civil rights leader pointed out that what made namesake of the biblical parable the Good Samaritan different, was that the man didn’t ask, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” Instead, he asked, “If I don’t stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

Jenkins said it was important to speak out against wrongs, and for people to work together towards an environment that “frees those of us who are bound by silence.”

It was these qualities, and more, that distinguished this year’s recipients of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church’s Humanitarian Awards.

Click here to view more photos from the awards ceremony.

Winners included:

  • A Bridge 4 Kids: An organization founded by local children, for local children. The group was created after a group of students grew concerned by seeing a rise in violence in their community.
  • Communities in Schools of Rowan County: Communities in Schools is a dropout prevention organization that seeks to encourage students to stay in school through mentoring, tutoring and other interventions.
  • Greg Alcorn: A former member of the State Board of Education, local Greg Alcorn has made headlines by starting a literacy-based nonprofit known as ApSeed. ApSeed puts e-readers loaded with literacy learning apps in the hands of at-risk children in order to better prepare them to start kindergarten.
  • George Bates III: George Bates is a local pastor and community advocate who has founded programs such as Man Up Monday, which helps provide positive role models to young boys in school, and Night Crawlers, an organization that tries to promote safety in local communities.
  • Dorothy Gill-Smith: A long-time Rowan County resident who has constantly fought for the rights of others, and who has served on the boards of the Human Relations Council, the Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency and Rowan Helping Ministries, among others.

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