In honor of Martin Luther King Day, Averett University, the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, the Riverview Rotary and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) combined their efforts to host a series of events throughout the weekend to show people the history of King, and what he stood for. The theme of MLK Day 2017, in fact, was “What will you stand for?”
On Friday and Saturday afternoon an exhibit was put on display at the Danvillian Art Gallery showing pictures from the Civil Rights movement. The exhibit was entitled, “The 1963 Danville Civil Rights Movement: The Protests, the People the Stories.
“King’s faith and vision were so overwhelming,” Southwest CARES Case Manager Barry Mayo said. “He saw it before anyone could ever see it, what America was truly supposed to be. When he saw what it was really like, he knew that it was something he had to do.”
Mayo visited the exhibit at the art gallery on Friday afternoon.
“I know I remember him for what he believed in,” Mayo said. “In time I have watched or listened to any of his segments and speeches and when you get a chance to read them, you can see clear as day what he was talking about.”
On Friday evening, the SCLC hosted a three-on-three basketball tournament at Cherrystone Missionary Baptist Center with no cost to attend. On Saturday evening, the SCLC held a “Stop the Killing” banquet with Dr. George Bates as a guest speaker at Stratford Conference Center.
On Sunday in the late afternoon, the Riverview Rotary hosted “America’s Sunday Supper” at the River District Event Center.
On Sunday evening, participants gathered in the plaza at the JTI Fountain for a “Stop the Killing” march to honor King. The march began at the plaza and continued up Main Street. Reverend Avon Keen led the marchers with a prayer beforehand, as well as in song as the marchers made their way through downtown Danville.
“We have been marching for years,” Keen said. “We’re just continuing that legacy. Now, it’s expanded to stop the killing of businesses and human beings in the community.”
When the march concluded at Loyal Baptist Church, a special Martin Luther King Day service was held featuring Bishop Lorenzo Hall.
“King was not a leader for just black people,” Keen said. “That’s one of the worst misunderstandings about him. King said to judge a man by the content of his character, not the color of his skin. We haven’t realized that in the world, skin color is not a barrier. All men are created equal. We must teach this dream of non-violence and that all life is valuable. If we do that, then it won’t be so easy to take a life.”
On Monday, which was the official Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity kicked off the day with its 16th annual scholarship breakfast. The featured special guest speaker was Bishop Lawrence G. Campbell Sr.
Later in the afternoon, Averett University hosted the MLK Day of Service in the E. Stuart James Grant Center. Various activities were set up and put on by volunteers throughout the afternoon.
“We started looking at what more we could do for our community,” Event Organizer Rachel Covington of Averett University said. “We created this day of service because we wanted to create a way for our community to give back to what they call home. Averett really wants to be a part of the community so we just wanted to offer those opportunities.”
In light of the theme “What will you stand for?” Averett offered free T-shirts at the event. To get one, participants had to take a sticky-note, write what they stood for on it and put it on the wall.
“We have several service projects,” Covington said. “We wanted to create a full day for everyone who came. They can bounce around from station to station to give back.”
Other activities at the event included a “stop hunger now” service project, a station for making scarves for all of the children, youth and elderly residents at the Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority Site, a station for making Valentines Day cards for the veterans in the Veterans Hospital in Salem, a station where people could make their own history book and a small civil rights exhibit.
“Dr. King was all about serving others,” Covington said. “We just want to emulate that. This day is all about service and giving back to the community that we call home. We wanted to create as many opportunities for people to come in and serve as possible.”
The finale of the MLK Day events was held at Blount Chapel at Averett University in the evening with a special Candlelight Vigil service. After hearing several speakers, attendees were each given a candle to have a few moments of silence while music played in honor of King.
“I think that what makes this a special and unique service is that it is completely focused on Martin Luther King Jr. and what his life represented,” Minister Skyler Daniel said. “In a lot of ways it feels like a church service but it’s something that’s totally inclusive to the whole community and it really inspires people to remember his life and be inspired to change themselves for the better.”
The service was a short event that lasted only a half hour. Alexis Ehrhardt, of Averett University was the organizer for the event.
“This is the first one we’ve done,” Ehrhardt said. “We’ve sort of had it in the back of our minds and decided that this was the perfect year to do it.”
Ehrhardt works for Averett’s Center for Community Engagement and Career Competitiveness. She explained that her office worked with Daniel to put the event together to conclude the 2017 Martin Luther King Day celebrations.
“For us, it comes directly from our mission,” Ehrhardt said. “Our mission is to prepare our students to serve and lead as catalysts for positive change. One way we can do that is by engaging them in their community in meaningful work and meaningful service. Dr. King really modeled the way for all of that. What better way for us to celebrate our mission than by honoring him?”