All lives matter — black lives, the lives of sinners, divorces, people with issues, people out on a limb, criminals and thieves, guards and soldiers — all matter to God.
    That was part of of message the Rev. Eddy Hayes, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Brownwood, delivered to a large crowd that gathered on a warm, sunny Monday morning at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in Brownwood to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “We’ve got to love our neighbors as ourselves,” Hayes said.
    The Revitalizing Our Community organization hosted the annual commemoration, which began with a gathering in front of the Benny Houston Community Center and a short march to the plaza. Prayer, music and statements from other speakers preceded Hayes’ speech.
    Emcee Jodie Miller introduced Brownwood school superintendent Dr. Joe Young, who spoke briefly before Miller noted that Young’s birthday was Monday. Miller led a rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
    Brownwood Mayor Stephen Haynes said he’s thankful there were no racial incidents of major consequence in Brown County this past year. “I’ve got to be able to speak openly with the leaders of our community about race, and they’ve got to be able to speak openly to me,” Haynes said.
    Haynes said he believes many people are afraid to talk about race. “I’m afraid to speak about race, not because I’m afraid of the topic, but because in my heart of hearts, I don’t want to offend anyone, so I say nothing at all,” Haynes said.
    “So this is my pledge to you, in honor of Dr. King: we cannot continue to remain silent. We cannot continue to be afraid, and we cannot continue to allow fear to lead to silence. So I’ll make you a deal: anyone here who wants to come up and talk to me about race related issues in Brownwood, there will be no judgment from me, there will be no  condemnation and I promise you, I’will hear you out with open hears and an open heart, and this is all I ask in returned: be honest with me. I need to be able to speak to you honestly and tell you what I think and what I feel, because if I cannot do that, we cannot make progress.”   
      Haynes said 2017 should be the year “we stop being afraid, we kill the fear and we begin an open dialogue to improve race relations in Brownwood. Things are good, but they’re not perfect, and they may not ever be perfect. but we can make them better. Hear me out. I will hear you out. Let’s talk about the issues openly inn 2017.”
    Miller asked Sheriff Vance Hill, Early Police Chief David Mercer and Assistant Brownwood Police Chief James Fuller to step to the front and speak.
    “I want to make this promise to you all — that nobody within the Brown County Sheriff’s Department will ever do anything to undermine any citizen, any race or individual,” Hill said. “We’re one team.”
    Mercer agreed, saying his department “will tolerate no injustice toward anyone, any race or person. If anything was to happen, I fully hope that anyone would feel comfortable to speak with me and we will get to the bottom of it.”
    Fuller thanked the community and “everybody that takes that step to say that it’s not a matter of race, it’s a matter of being family. Let’s all be family.”
    When Hayes stepped to the microphone, he began by saying “it’s not a black thing, it’s a people thing because God loves us all.”
    Hayes said King had promoted brotherly love and compassion for the poor, and he read several Bible verses in which people are commanded to love one another and love their neighbor. “Even though the world hates those of different races, we know that God loves everyone,” Hayes said.
    Hayes asked, “who is your neighbor? Real love is identified by the action that it prompts.”
    Hayes said many people believe the statement “black lives matter” is a racial statement, and critics say the statement seems to suggest other lives don’t matter.
    “Perhaps the critics of the Black Lives Matter movement could understand it better if the outcry was ‘black lives matter too,’” Hayes said. “All lives matter.”
    Hayes quoted the lyrics of the children’s song “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”