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‘Crash Course’ in Black History

JACKSON — “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., December 10, 1964.

On Monday, dozens gathered here to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a time to reflect and celebrate the life of a Civil Rights icon who left behind a lasting legacy and vital lesson to all.

The 10th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration kicked off with a morning unity march from the Department of Transportation down Highway 305 to the Northampton County Cultural and Wellness Center. Northampton County High School-West JROTC Color Guards and marching band along with Northampton County High School-East marching band and Jackson Square Masonic Lodge #700 F&AM led the way for the participants.

Remembering the past and teaching the younger generation about the former and current struggles of African-Americans was on the minds those who attended…and at the forefront of it all the lessons of nonviolence and love and a unified American society Dr. King once spoke so passionately about.

The idea for a Martin Luther King Jr. program in Northampton County began in the mid-1990’s with Joyce Buffaloe with the Choanoke Area Development Association (CADA).

Relocating back to Northampton County, her childhood home, from New Jersey, Buffaloe began to see the need for a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. She said the day is all about teaching young people about the struggle blacks went through to gain their rights.

Buffaloe noted how young people freely go into restaurants and movie theaters, never realizing the advancement from the past.

“It (equal rights) just didn’t happen over night, lots of people sacrificed,” she said. “They need to know their history.”

The messenger for the program, Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode Sr., said Martin Luther King Jr. Day is about the younger generation.

“I’m going to be talking our jobs and our goals now that Dr. King is gone,” Goode told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald prior to his speech. “What are we to do?”

He added that message to young people is: stay in school, learn all you can and celebrate your generation and achievements.

Goode, a Seaboard native, is the director and organizer of the Amachi Program in Philadelphia, Pa., a national faith-based mentoring model for children of incarcerated parents. Goode broke racial barriers when he was appointed managing director for the City of Philadelphia and later served as the first African-American mayor for two terms. He also spent seven years as deputy assistant secretary of education for former President Bill Clinton’s administration.

Goode grew up during the time of Dr. King and he recalled participating in demonstrations, marches and picketing for equal rights during his time at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.

“We’re not there yet, but we have come a long way from where we were when he (Dr. King) died,” Goode said.

One of Goode’s concerns is the incarceration of young black men and the aftereffects, including opportunities to get a job or even vote in some states.

“Forty percent of African-American males under the age of 40 have some type of criminal history,” he said. “We’re talking about absolute numbers…40 percent of any group of people—that’s a problem, that’s a challenge.”

Goode said the election of President Barack Obama was a partial fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream and noted there’s still work to be done to achieve the whole of that dream.

“Pervasive racism still exists in our society and it’s existed in the South for years,” he said. “It’s too early to celebrate the election of President Obama because the racism is still there.”

The day was filled with song, dance, scripture, tribute and vendors, including Roanoke-Chowan Health Center which offered health screenings. Members of the Religious Clergy joined local officials in celebrating the day.

Representative Michael Wray said he has been attending the march since it began. He said it was important to participate because Dr. King was and still is a significant part of American history.

“Martin Luther King Jr. did great things, he was a great man,” Wray said.

Lucille Bennett of Garysburg remembers Dr. King’s message of non-violence as an intricate part of her life.

Bennett said from an early age her parents taught her violence was not the answer.

“Do right and good will follow you,” she recalled her parents saying. “Violence is not the way, it’s not the answer.”

It’s a lesson Bennett has made sure to pass on to her three children and her grandson. She echoed the sentiments of others by agreeing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a crash course in black history for youth.

“I’m excited to see so many young people (here today),” she said.

For Ryan Barker, 14, of Garysburg, this Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration was his first. Barker came with his two sisters and his Sunday school teacher from Bethlehem Baptist Church.

“Today is very important because Martin Luther King Jr. was a black leader,” he said. “He changed every black’s life.”