Hope, the pillar on which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. built many a sermon, was a recurring theme Monday morning at the prayer breakfast The Chronicle has held each MLK Day for the past 14 years.
It was manna from heaven for the more than 1,000 people who packed the Benton Convention Center for the event. What the litany of preachers and singers served up was more filling than the bacon, eggs and hashbrowns.
“You made me cry, but you didn’t make me quit,” attendees repeated to a person sitting close to them.
Dr. James Woodson made the request. The pastor of Greensboro’s St. James Home of Fresh Start Ministries made those words his centerpiece as he reminded breakfast-goers that Dr. King was often down, but never out.
“King’s dream is not dead … With the violence and the drugs … You may make me cry, but you won’t make me quit,” he said in a classic Southern preaching style that sent his words echoing and brought the crowd to its feet. “Go to your room and shed a tear … (but) keep on keeping on, even when keeping on is not popular.”
Dr. Patricia Bailey-Jones said she saw King’s vision in action a few days ago when she was a world away. The day before the breakfast, Bailey-Jones had endured 30 hours of air travel to make it back to the Triad from Southeast Asia, where she had been performing missionary work for her Master’s Touch Ministries International.
She entered Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand knowing of the area’s decades-long factional wars. Bailey-Jones said that she and other missionaries were caught in between two gun-toting clans as they handed out blankets and other supplies to villagers who have been ravaged by the crossfire. But remarkably, instead of continuing their battle, the fighters put down their guns on this day and picked up blankets to help with the distribution.
“Peace is only extracted out of love,” Bailey-Jones said after relating the story. “Don’t you dare tell me love fails! Love conquers all!”
This year’s breakfast was refashioned to put preaching, prayer and uplifting gospel at the forefront. More than a dozen area religious leaders helped to do that. Many of them fashioned and led prayers to combat today’s ills. In his “Prayer Against War and Community Violence,” Grace Presbyterian Pastor Touré Marshall also preached about the power of love and the need to spread it about abundantly.
“We need a love revolution that will move us closer to that day that the prophet Elijah spoke of,” he said.
In his “Prayer Against Poverty and Homelessness,” Southside Baptist Church Pastor Dan Musser reminded the crowd that too many today suffer from not only “poverty of the pocket, but poverty of the soul.”
In his invocation, Dr. Tejado Hanchell, pastor of Mt. Calvary United Holy Church, stated that Dr. King’s dream “is incomplete.” Mayor Allen Joines, who brought greetings after the invocation, picked up the baton.
“We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” he said before naming unemployment, gun violence and the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Governor’s Mansion as areas of concern. “It is up to us to speak for those who have no voice.”
The music of the morning mirrored the messages. From the inspirational lines of “We Shall Overcome” (performed by the Union Baptist Church Praise Team) to the steely-resolve of “Oh, Freedom” (performed by the Winston-Salem Community Prayer Band), songs of determination and unbending faith drew a mix of tears, applause and spiritual meditations. Stellar Award winner Luther Barnes added star power to the event. In between his performances, the gospel legend mingled with the crowd and posed for pictures with fans.
The official theme of this year’s breakfast, “The Emerging Dream, A Present Day Reality,” acknowledged what many believe: the election of the nation’s first black president was made possible by Dr. King and others like him. Or, as Woodson would say, Barack Obama is president because Dr. King did not quit.
“God is still on the throne. God ain’t dead,” Woodson said. “I can’t quit. I won’t quit!”