With song and sermon, people of different races and backgrounds celebrated the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday morning at Addie’s Chapel United Methodist Church.

This year marks the 22nd year for the annual Martin Luther King Day service. Even though it is held at Addie’s Chapel, organizers emphasize that it is for the entire McDowell County community, regardless of race or denomination.

And this year’s service carried a strong message and theme: “We’ve come too far to turn around.”

The service began with a call to worship: “Yes, we celebrate this day our unity in God. Our differences serve as a reminder of how precious each of us is in the human tapestry of life and that the future holds great things for the next generation.”

The service continued with the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which has been called the black national anthem.

Mayor Pro Tem Billy Martin recognized the other local officials who were present for the event: Mayor Steve Little, County Manager Ashley Wooten, Superintendent Mark Garrett, Police Chief Allen Lawrence and Ray McKesson, president of the McDowell chapter of the NAACP. Martin also commended the work of Mount Zion AME Zion Church for holding the sixth annual Martin Luther King Day prayer breakfast on Saturday morning.

Little said this service “gives us a chance to think, not about how we are different, but how we are the same. In our community, we are here for each other. We are all in this together.”

Addie’s Chapel Gospel Choir sang some musical selections and Zhanya Platt read a poem honoring the late civil rights leader. Yvette Logan sang “How Great Thou Art.”

The Rev. Dr. James Hunt, pastor of New Birth Worship Center in East Bend, was the guest speaker at the service.

“We should bring people together,” he said. “I look around and I see the various colors and that’s what church is all about. We should also speak the truth.”

He talked about the time before the Civil Rights Movement, when schools, buses, restaurants and movie theaters were segregated and racism was prevalent. He remembered being forced to sit in the balcony of a movie theater separate from the white customers and having to go through the back door of a restaurant. During that time, many people lost their lives in the struggle for equality.

“It still exists because it is dressed up in pretty colors,” he said, adding it now includes Hispanics.

But there is hope for the future. Hunt referred to the new women who were elected in to Congress. With the 116th Congress, women will make up nearly a quarter of its voting membership. Many of them were elected to Congress in last year’s mid-term elections. These new members of Congress, such as U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, represent various races, religions and ethnic groups who have never had such an opportunity before.

“We shouldn’t take a holiday from our duties and obligations,” he said. “Martin Luther King Day is not just for blacks. Martin Luther King Day represents everybody. We live in a divided country and we live in a divided state but we as a family don’t have to be divided.”

Hunt urged the capacity crowd to get out of their comfort zone and continue to strive for progress, equality and justice.

“Don’t get satisfied,” he said. “Always look for something better. We’ve seen a black president in our time. We’ve seen women in Congress. Let us not wallow in despair. We are making progress and we’ve come forward too far to turn around.”

The service concluded with the singing of the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement: “We Shall Overcome.”

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