King’s dream lives on

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 15, 2005

AHOSKIE – More than a speech.

That was the way the Honorable W. Rob Lewis, II described the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he addressed a congregation of like-minded citizens at Hertford County High School during its &uot;Continuing the Dream&uot; program, Thursday night.

The program, which is in its seventh year, kicked off with a greeting from David Shields, Chairman of the Hertford County Public Schools Board of Education, who offered his thanks to everyone who made the program possible followed by a welcome from HCPS Superintendent Dennis Deloatch.

Deloatch echoed the sentiments of Dr. King as he relayed the purpose of the event citing values of tolerance, equality and brotherhood.

&uot;This holiday is a reminder of the opportunity we have to teach future generations how to fight evil while challenging us to question the methods by which we resolve conflict,&uot; he said.

Operating on Dr. King’s philosophy that it’s not how long one lives, but how well they live, Deloatch said that he was &uot;eager and honored&uot; to recognize some of Hertford County’s citizens for their part in continuing the dream.

Intermingled with passionate solo performances by Riverview Elementary students Tobias Hill and Jessie Fennell (wrought standing ovations), a foot tapping rendition of &uot;Wacky Chopstix&uot; by Bearfield Primary School, a dance routine by Ahoskie Elementary School and Hertford County Middle School’s instrumental trio of the timeless classics of &uot;We Shall Overcome&uot; and &uot;Wade in the Water,&uot; the event testified to the promise of future generations.

Before HCPS Assistant Superintendent Charles W. Johnson introduced Lewis as the night’s featured speaker, he imparted a brief biography.

Johnson shared that Lewis earned his undergraduate, masters and law degrees before working as a staff attorney for Legal Services of the Coastal Plain, later opening his own practice and eventually to his current position as District Court Judge for District 6B.

Lewis didn’t miss a beat as he addressed the crowd. &uot;Many people want to encapsulate Martin Luther King by his renowned &uot;I Have a Dream&uot; speech, but just as the man cannot be relegated to one speech, neither can the holiday commemorating his contributions to society with regard to the civil rights movement be relegated to celebrating the accomplishments of just one man,&uot; he said.

He continued, &uot;It is a travesty to limit the celebration of this holiday to the stand taken by Martin Luther King when so many others who shared his dream laid down their lives and risked it all for the same ideals on which he stood. That is why this program is so important because it celebrates your neighbors who reflect the essence of what King stood for.&uot;

Lewis, who also volunteers for HCPS’s Teen Court, emphasized teamwork in perpetuating the King’s dream of equality and justice and admonished the crowd that the holiday in and of itself would not keep youth out of jail, incite modesty or purity, or drive away gangs.

&uot;Dreams are fine, but it’s time to wake up,&uot; he said. &uot;Ignorance here is ignorance everywhere. We need to realize that Como’s problems are Ahoskie’s problems and so forth. We’re all in this together.&uot;

Following the motivational charge, Ahoskie Council member Elaine Myers presented Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn with a plaque recognizing her for her commitment to continue the dream, referring to her as &uot;compassionate, sincere, understanding and humble.&uot; Myers commended Blackburn for efforts to improve the quality of live for all citizens regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status.

Blackburn, who is the town’s first female mayor, has been actively involved in the revitalization of the downtown area, was cited for her accomplishments, including the town’s first Heritage Day festival, a Christmas tree at No Man’s Land, improvement of the seven entrances to the town and institution of &uot;public input&uot; section at town meetings among others.

Rendered nearly speechless by the award, Blackburn tearfully expressed humble thanks for the recognition.

&uot;Each of us has a responsibility to carry on the dream,&uot; she said. &uot;Each of us has to participate if we’re going to be successful.&uot;

Next up for the award was Pastor Robert D. Richardson of First Baptist Church of Murfreesboro. Introduced by Murfreesboro Town Council member William &uot;Bill&uot; Stephens, Richardson who is known for starting an HIV/AIDS program in Hertford County as well as his involvement in the lives young people to whom he dedicates time via counseling, volunteer work at Riverview Elementary School, coaching or simple fellowship, was credited for his compassion, commitment and trustworthiness.

Recalling a time in his life where his father, a pastor, &uot;dragged him kicking and screaming&uot; to a church in New Jersey to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak, Richardson shared one thing that stuck out in his mind.

&uot;I remember Dr. King saying, ‘If we have nothing to live for, then we have nothing to die for. I challenge you to find something to die for,&uot; he said.

Presenting the final award to longtime friend and neighbor, Margaret &uot;Margie&uot; Vensel, who is known for her volunteer work at Bearfield Primary and other area schools as well as her involvement with Girl Scouts, Giff Daughtridge shared how Vensel was always happy to give of herself.

&uot;She is unselfish with her time and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her ask for anything but how she can help,&uot; Daughtridge said.

Overwhelmed by emotion, Vensel did not give a speech at the time of the presentation, but later shared her feelings.

&uot;I am honored and humbled by receiving this award,&uot; she said. &uot;I truly care about our community and am so proud to be associated as a volunteer with the Hertford County Public Schools.&uot;

Vensel thanked the schools’ leadership for their dedication to the children and noted, &uot;Our slogan at Bearfield has been ‘Hand in Hand…Together we can make a difference,’ but it has since changed to ‘Hand in Hand…together we are making a difference’.&uot;

She added, &uot;By the community coming together, doing small things, a little at a time, powerful things can happen.

In our schools, as our test scores rise and our children become more confident, successful and proud, we can see that. I feel that is part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream that if we all work together in a positive manner, great things will happen.&uot;

Concluding the program, the lights were dimmed while students from Hertford County High School gave a salute to black history by reading excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches and other inspirational and historic words.

Music accompanied the reading, while off to the side a power point presentation scrolled with photos of atrocities from the civil rights movement, King’s earlier days and more recent triumphs.

A moving trumpet solo laid the ground for youth from C.S. Brown Student Development Center to impart the closing verses of &uot;We Shall Overcome,&uot; followed by a charge from Deloatch for citizens to get involved in the community.

&uot;It’s very difficult for young people today,&uot; he said. &uot;We live in a different time, but everyone can make a commitment to do something for our community to make it a better place and that’s the essence of why we’re here tonight.&uot;

Deloatch thanked the honorees, Board of Education, the performers, Jr. ROTC and those at the HCPS Central Office for their help in putting the program together. He also thanked the parents for their support.