In speech, music and prayer, a large and diverse crowd honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday morning at the plaza named in his honor in Brownwood.
The Revitalizing Our Community organization hosted the commemoration, which was held on the day set aside to honor the civil rights leader's birthday and carried the theme “You Be the Difference.” The commemoration featured music by the Brownwood High School band and local musician Zach Webb and several speakers.
Much has been accomplished in race relations in America, but much remains to be done, speakers said.
After opening remarks by emcee Jodie Miller and an invocation by Scotty Crawford, Brownwood Police Chief Terry Nichols told of his arrival in Brownwood in 2016. Nichols was embraced by the community and never once felt unwanted or uncomfortable — but in some communities, he would not be welcome because of his uniform at a King tribute, Nichols said.
“I feel confident that does not represent the America Dr. King envisioned and fought so hard to create,” Nichols said.
King was quoted in a magazine article in 1958 as saying people fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; and they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other, Nichols said.
Many conflicts could be resolved “if we got to know one another before the conflict,” Nichols said.
Revitalizing Our Community member and Mayor Pro Tem Draco Miller spoke on behalf of Mayor Stephen Haynes, who was scheduled to speak but was out of town. Miller said Haynes’ message was “the work is not done” in light of events in 2017 that increased racial tension.
“However, with each event that occurred, there were people of all races and ethnicity and backgrounds that are quick to denounce touch bigotry and hatred,” Miller said on behalf of the mayor.
Haynes said through Miller that his is thankful for civil rights leaders such as King and “people who hear his message and chose love over hate.”
Keynote speaker Kenneth Colegrove, pastor of Brownwood Evangelism Center, said some might think it peculiar that a white man was the guest speaker at a citywide King rally.
“I personally believe, if Dr. King knew a white man was speaking at a rally that gives tribute to his life’s work, he would be pleased to know that the biblical and scriptural ideals of the March on Washington were now embraced by so many,” Colegrove said.
Hatred, bitterness, bigotry and racial prejudices are more than social injustices and political, societal and civil problems, Colegrove said.
“They are a spiritual problem,” Colegrove said. “ … They are sins that desperately need God’s forgiveness.
Colegrove gave scripture references to show Jesus’ displeasure with prejudice and lack of love among some people. Colegrove quoted the command to “love thy neighbor as thyself. … God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son,” Colegrove said. “The black, the brown, the white, the yellow, the red. … In the eyes of Jesus, all lives matter.”
Colegrove said he’s been asked “why haven’t we accomplished more in the area of racial harmony and unity? … We have accomplished much. We have seen great progress. Due to the efforts of the man we honor today, and others like him, we have made great strides. Why then, do we occasionally slip back?
Jodie Miller said he was going “off script” and asked County Judge Ray West, 35th District Judge Steve Ellis, Howard Payne University President Dr. Bill Ellis and Brownwood ISD Superintendent Dr. Joe Young to come forward and briefly speak.
“It’s a sad thing it’s taken 150 years to get to where we are now, and we’re still not there,” West said. “ … I’m very proud of the diverse crowd that we see here today and the brotherhood and the friendships that we all have that have nothing to do with color.”
Bill Ellis said King had courage. “It’s easy to believe civil rights are important to our society,” Ellis said. “The only way that maters is when you apply the courage to it, and Dr. King did that. The job isn’t done.”
Concluding the commemoration, Draco Miller noted the “joyous occasion” in which people of different opinions, backgrounds and ethnicity could “sit at the table of brotherhood … liberty and life have no color. Love, understanding, respect, dignity, have no color. … our country has come a long way yet still has so far to go.”