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.


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.



33rd Martin Luther King Jr. Day; Tyler, TX 2019: “Living Together as Brothers.” By J.D. Meyer

The 33rd MLK Day celebration in Tyler once again began with meeting at the Downtown Square and marching to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Cathedral at Broadway AV & Front ST for a program with many speakers. At the Square, someone quoted MLK with, “No individual or nation can live alone. We can live together as brothers or die together as fools. Someone carried a cool sign with the following MLK quote, “We may have come in on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” The sound system wasn’t working downtown, so that part of the program was cut short, and the crowd marched down Broadway Avenue—Tyler’s major street—to the cathedral. There were at least a couple of drum corps marching with us: Texas College and Grace Community HS.
In the introduction, the speaker noted that scientific progress has made the world a neighborhood. Once again, someone asserted that a person or nation can’t live alone. That reminded of the current American president’s desire to withdraw from NATO—a military alliance between the USA & Western Europe since 1945 for protection versus Russia, formerly the Soviet Union.
Somebody wore a cool T-shirt declaring, “Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama ran, so our children could fly.” #LegacyMatters.
Joanne Hampton began by noting that we need to be mindful of our giving. Lift each other up by being aware. Local business success promotes sustainability. Yet we can stimulate global culture.
Mayor Martin Heines asked, “What are we doing for others?” Service to one another strengthens the community. To build a more perfect union, we all have a role through building with our service. This leads to more abundant opportunities for our children.
Next were four charming little kids with “Kids Aspiring to Dream (KATD) with their theatrical performance, culminating with Jonathan Martin’s dramatic soliloquy. The theme was “The Dream Lives on “It is Me.”
George Faber played, “Take the A Train (1941)” before a statement highlighting the term, “propel.” Through our roles in life, we encourage and propel equality by coming together often. Sometimes we don’t have the answers. We encourage our kids; something will propel them too.
The Keynote Speaker was Peggy Llewellyn, a History-Making NHRA Pro Stock Motorcyclist. She was the first minority woman to win an NHRA event. The speaker’s mom rode motorcycles too, and her dad was a motorcycle and car mechanic. Ms. Llewellyn likes to research new cities that she visits—noting that Tyler is the Rose City and home of actress Sandy Duncan, Keke Shepherd, and the HGTV Dream House.
Ms. Llewellyn’s Dad is Jamaican and he moved here in 1967—just three years after the Civil Rights Act. Racial tension was still strong. She noted that her family could have played it safe for Jamaica is a beautiful island with great cuisine. Nevertheless, the USA is a land of opportunity—in spite of struggles with racism. They settled in San Antonio, Texas. By 1977, her dad owned his own business. Nevertheless, some customers wouldn’t deal with him when they found him to be Black. Other customers wanted him to succeed, for they lived together as brothers.
Young Peggy didn’t grow up with dolls; she raced her brother on motorcycles. She liked the smell of burning rubber and reached speeds of 190 mph. They raced at Alamo Dragway. Color was not a measuring tool for herself. Novelty was something different for the team.
Sometimes her ability was questioned because she’s small, Black, and Jamaican. Ms. Llewellyn was determined to look past the negativity and going to race and win. We should love one another regardless of race or religion. Hate is too much burden; love is actually simpler, according to Ms. Llewellyn. Recall that saying, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Have faith so we work together, play together, and struggle together. She quoted Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong of good courage. God goes with you and won’t leave or forsake you.” All we need is faith the size of a mustard seed. We must fight discrimination on basis of sex or whatever. In closing, Peggy’s Dad knew she had talent, and he prepared her for obstacles. Look past and above the negative. Love and respect helps one’s perspective. It’s a topic and attitude.

Here’s a photo of me at the MLK march; it was taken by Sarah Miller, the main photojournalist for the Tyler Paper.

28th Annual MLK Interfaith Community Program in Tyler, TX

28th Annual MLK Interfaith Community Program in Tyler, TX
January 23, 2014 by bohemiotx |By JD Meyer

This year’s MLK Day celebration was held in the gym of St. Gregory Elementary because the Immaculate Conception Cathedral is getting new pews. The traditional march from the Downtown Square preceded the service. Today’s theme was “America–Where Opportunity Meets Responsibility.” A packed crowd witnessed a truly interfaith presentation complete with speakers from Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and Unity faiths. The MLK program was sponsored by the Tyler Together Race Relations Forum (TTRRF).

Once again, the Korean War Veterans Association/Leroy Batey Chapter 286 did the Presentation of the Colors. Dr. Otis Webster of Tyler Junior College sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” before the audience sang “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing;” the lyrics were provided in the flyer with the program. This song is nicknamed the “The Black National Anthem.” Bishop Joseph Strickland welcomed the audience by noting that we are all children of God, regardless of race or religion. Martin Luther King stood for brotherly and sisterly love.

Judge Joel Baker was the next speaker; he noted that Tyler has held a Martin Luther King Day celebration since 1986. It has united the community. Dr. King served humanity. Judge Baker asserted that that we may be “inspired, enlightened, and perhaps permanently impacted.” Dr. King stayed with love in part because hatred is too big a burden.

Mayor Pro-Tem Martin Heines followed the judge, and his theme was, “We cannot walk alone.” The Tyler councilmen walk together. Opportunities for children are increasing; a new technical secondary school is on the way in Tyler ISD. There are more mentoring and literacy programs as well. For example, the Boys and Girls Club has evolved into a faith-based nonprofit.

Anwar Khalifa gave the Moslem perspective. Born in Egypt to medical doctors, Anwar’s family moved to East Texas when he was eight. His mom was a pulmonologist in Henderson for 20 years. Contrary to the stereotype of East Texas, Anwar has found this area to be very friendly to his family despite being Moslem immigrants. Some countries have closed societies, bad economies, and repressive governments–but not the USA. We serve God by helping others. We’re responsible for the hungry and homeless. Giving back is what makes our country great, and it’s commanded by God. Mr. Khalifa proclaimed, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” He recalled when he was invited to join the Tyler Interfaith association. This led to meeting his future best friend, Neal Katz, Tyler’s Reform Jewish rabbi. The actions of the 9-11 terrorists have made life difficult for good Moslems in the US, so Anwar has tried to showcase the normalcy of the Muslim community. Importantly, Mr. Khalifa observed that the previous Civil Rights movement made life easier for Muslims in post-2001 America.

Four men from the Texas College (Tyler’s HBCU) choir performed an a capella version of “Roll Jordan, Roll.” Reverend Darryl Bowdre of the Church of Christ asserted that Dr. King’s dream was exemplified in the audience today. Be sure to apply the words to your life. Then we had four high school students read a portion of “I Have a Dream,” Mark Hubbard, Sheldon McGowan, Kinza Ashraf, and Danielle Richards. All but Ms. Ashraf are from John Tyler High School while she is from Whitehouse. Early in this speech is a rebuttal of the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. King’s more militant critics may have felt his faction was too mild-mannered. Injustice was compared to quicksand while brotherhood is like a rock. Militancy should not lead to a distrust of all whites nor degenerate into violence, bitterness, or wrongful deeds. The destiny of other races is tied up in ours asserted Dr. King, as is the fight for freedom. Segregated motels and restaurants led to fatigue. Mobility has to be more than just moving to a bigger ghetto. The “White Only” signs must end. One day the descendant of the slave and slave master will sit down together, and the content of one’s character will mean more than one’s skin color. Dr. King made references to particularly bad conditions in Alabama and Mississippi. Eventually, the hills and valleys will be made level and we’ll let freedom ring. At that point, the African-American will be able to sing “Free at Last.” The four students did a wonderful job reading their portion of the speech. Crowd reaction indicated that the second speaker, Sheldon McGowan, was the most charismatic.

Reverend Judith Lee Taylor of the Tyler Unity Center followed the “I Have a Dream” speakers. Judith complimented the speakers’ talent. She noted that the US influences the rest of the world. We’re here to better represent the best of America. MLK’s words are so poetic that they can be a balm to the heart. Do we still experience emotional segregation and trust issues, asked Rev. Taylor? We need to open our hearts and apply these words beyond MLK Day. We are seeds for the transformation.

The entire Texas College Choir, roughly 20, performed a song before another message from Bishop Strickland. The bishop mentioned the new pope, Francis from Argentina, a man of the Americas. Bishop Strickland predicted the immensely popular new pope would like Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Bishop Strickland encouraged us as residents of East Texas that we can make a difference–even though we don’t live in more prominent, heavily populated areas such as New York City and London. The bishop complimented Reverend Taylor by asserting that her words challenge us.

The program winded down with brief statements from three other ministers. First, Reverend Jerome Milton (Baptist) proclaimed that nobody would have believed that such a festival could have succeeded in Tyler or East Texas 28 years ago. We have a new drumbeat.

Then Max Lafser, head minister of Tyler Unity expressed his agreement with all the speakers, and hailed Tyler as his favorite city in which to live. Max reiterated his theme of CPR–Compassion, Persistence, and Reverence–that he’d said on the square earlier in the morning. Reverend Lafser called attention to the sponsoring organizations listed on the back of the program. Now there’s a Cultural Diversity Gathering on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at 5:30 in the Tyler Library Auditorium.

The benediction was given by Rabbi Neal Katz. First, the rabbi noted that he ran the MLK program with Reverend Milton for six years, and there are more interfaith programs in Tyler, such as an early February event at Liberty Baptist, the Art of Peace in September, and the new monthly Celebrate Diversity events. The rabbi’s prayer was that however, we come before you; we all recognize the flame of divinity in all, and treat people well. If we seek an echo chamber of sameness; we’ll have failed the test. Let’s go beyond our comfort zone. The conclusion was based on a Jewish prayer for travelers.

Once again, the Martin Luther King Jr Interfaith Community Program was a popular success. The team approach to speaking opportunities coincidentally was like this year’s Kwanzaa; a real keynote address wasn’t mandatory here either. The traditional stew was served outside the gym. For more information on Dr. King, go to the Martin Luther King Jr. Research & Education Institute, King Papers Project

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