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Cherry, Duren honored during all-virtual MLK celebration

SALISBURY — Mount Zion Baptist Church on Sunday kept a 44-year tradition going.

The church’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration honors the life and vision of a civil rights icon, and its humanitarian awards recognize the contributions of locals. This year, the program was all-virtual and posted to the church’s Facebook page on Sunday afternoon. The program was founded by Pastor Nilous Avery’s predecessor and local civil rights leader Samuel R. Johnson, who was pastor at the church from 1974 until his death in 1991.

Sunday’s event began with a montage of King and highlights from some of the civil rights icon’s speeches. Avery hosted the event, and the keynote guest speaker this year was Livingstone College President Jimmy Jenkins.

This year’s humanitarian awards went to Wilson Cherry, director of community affairs for Rowan Vocational Opportunities, and community advocate Keith Duren.

Cherry previously worked as a N.C. vocational rehabilitation counselor. His work has routinely received recognition from state and local organizations as well as the governor.

Duren owns Duren Glass and Remodeling in Salisbury. He helped Lumberton in the wake of damage caused by Hurricane Florence. He put together a team of volunteers and collected donations to benefit the city.

He has donated filled backpacks to local children, collected food to distribute to people in need and started a food drive to sponsor 40 families with a complete Thanksgiving holiday meal and started a donation campaign to provide Christmas for orphaned children in Kannapolis.

Sunday’s program opened with lines from King’s iconic speech “I Have a Dream,” delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. The montage featured a number of text quotes and audio clips from King’s speeches.

Avery welcomed viewers before handing the podium to minister Deborah Johnson, who delivered an invocation before the program transitioned to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Latasha Brown performed a dance routine for the program’s creative expression portion.

The service also included the presentation of memorial scholarships in Johnson and his wife Eva’s names. The scholarships were awarded to Alyssa Lopez and Michael Cartwright.

Lopez is a Salisbury High School graduate who now attends N.C. A&T State University. Cartwright is a graduate of Victory Christian Center and is also attending A&T. In addition to scholarship funding, the students will receive laptops donated by Nathan Currie.

“We have watched them grow up and we are so proud of them as we are all of our young people that continue to look upward and look Godward,” Avery said.

Jenkins said he was humbled to be asked to speak at the service.

“This day is about a man who lived out a love story,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said King understood that every word he said against evil brought him closer to making the ultimate sacrifice and laying down his life for his friends and the truth. Jenkins said God chose a great orator to begin the steps of leading the U.S. out of systemic racism.

“Martin Luther King reminded us from whence we came, but he also described to us the road we must take if we are to get to the promised land,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said he is filled with enthusiasm and despair. He can not remember a time in his adult life where Americans confronted such opposing philosophies. He said America is in a unique position to be a shining example of what diversity, productivity and enhancement of quality of life can be when people focus their energy on the challenges of life.

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