Martin Luther King, Jr. Day—January 20, 2020—Tyler, TX                    34th Annual Interfaith Community Program

          By J.D. Meyer

The 34th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. continued its traditional program by meeting at the Downtown Square and marching to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at 423 South Broadway Avenue for a program. This year’s theme was “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

Some Signs on the March

Here are five signs that I saw while downtown, and they are quotes from Dr. King:  (1) “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way. (2) “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 93) “Time is always right to do right.” (4) “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” (5) Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.” The International Education Lab of Tyler Junior College carried a sign proclaiming, “We are the dream.” The John Tyler, Robert E. Lee, and Grace Community high school marching bands participated in the march too.

Introductory Remarks.

The Call to Order/Invocation was given by Bishop Nick McGraw. He read an excerpt from a letter that a Caucasian girl from White Plains High School sent to Dr. King after he’d survived an injury early in his career. Dr. King stated that if he’d sneeze, he would have died. The young lady wrote, “I’m glad you didn’t sneeze.” This became the title of one of his speeches. An early civil rights speech was at Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

Reverend Jonny Williams gave the Invocation. With God, you can do all things, moved by the Spirit—the source of all joy. The Presentation of the Colors & Pledge of Allegiance was performed by Boulter Middle School. The “Star-Spangled Banner” by Mrs. Jessilyn Yarber presented a wide vocal range and dramatic changes in volume, building to a loud climax at the end.  “Father Hank Lankford and County Commissioner Joanne Hampton gave the Greetings. Ms. Hampton noted that Dr. King’s last talk was on April 3, 1968, in Memphis. She noted the theme of this year’s 2020 event and urged us to make MLK’s dream a reality here.

The favorite MLK quote of Tyler Mayor, Martin Heines, is a question, “What are you doing for others?” The Mayor noted that it is life’s most persistent question, and he asked the Tyler councilmen in attendance to stand. Mayor Heines told us about his 14-year old daughter who already wants to do service. She attends a sports school in Florida. A third of the school comes from other countries; their soccer team includes kids from China. The Mayor proclaimed that the world interacting together is wonderful globalism. I was happy to see such a prominent local figure give a cheer for globalism in an age of increasingly negative populism. It’s his last year as mayor and he closed by asserting we’re all dream makers that aren’t satisfied by the status quo.

Kids Aspiring to Dream (KATD) took the stage—a group of three kids. They thanked Dr. King and declared we’re not afraid to let our light shine.  At least be the best shrub on the side of a hill. Others sacrificed so we could dream. Rise together so we can be a better people and nation.

“Lift Every Voice & Sing” was performed by the Jarvis Christian College choir—a large group with roughly 30 members! Jarvis Christian is an HBCU in nearby Hawkins, Texas. That song is considered the National Black Anthem.

Now it was time for the introduction of the speaker by Kenneth Cobb. He hopes that the program inspires, even if it’s just one. We hope you make it and tell us how you did it.

Keynote Speaker: Mrs. Sha’Rell Webb–Education Specialist, Lunar & Planetary Institute.

          Sha’Rell Webb overcame a tragic childhood to become a leading science educator. She was adopted at the age of two by her aunt and uncle because her Mom was and is hooked on crack cocaine. She completed high school in Houston, becoming a dental assistant while there and wanted to become a nurse. Mrs. Webb won an academic field trip to California and $75, 000 in grants. She graduated from Jarvis Christian College and became a science teacher. While at Jarvis, she attempted suicide twice but got well.

At times, Mrs. Webb cried a little during her speech and got the crowd to shout with her, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars,” the theme of the 2020 MLK Program. She taught at Stewart Elementary in Tyler ISD. Her goal was to make science “fun but relatable…culturally relevant.” She believes Black kids are “underestimated and under-represented.” She founded Coding with a Twist—a computer science, coding, and robotics program. Now she works for NASA in Houston at the Lunar and Planetary Institute. Kids that don’t speak might make something. What you do now makes a difference for later. Webb stressed the importance of having dignity, being the best you can be, and commitment to beauty, love, and justice.

Closing

Reverend Jerome Milton started the MLK program in Tyler 34 years ago. He’s another Jarvis Christian College graduate. Now the program is sponsored by the Tyler Together Race Relations Program (TTRRF). Jeff Williams, the TTRF President, spoke as well. We need to build bridges to get out of our comfort zones. We may have come here on different ships but we’re in the same boat now. Father Matt Boulter of Christ Church did the Benediction.