Standing in front of a crowd Monday at the Martin Luther King Memorial Plaza in Brownwood, Val Rhodes acknowledged that he still felt the effects of a recent appendectomy.
“But I wanted to be here,” Rhodes, a 1972 Brownwood High School graduate who lives in Rowlett, said at the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. “I want to be here for a community that I love so much.”
Revitalizing Our Community (ROC) hosted the observance, which included the playing of the National Anthem by the Brownwood High School band, as well as remarks by ROC representatives and Brownwood Mayor Stephen Haynes.
Rhodes, a 44-year educator and coach, used a mix of humor, scripture, sports and education as he presented the keynote address. Rhodes tied his points to King's legacy and highlighted living out King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Rhodes noted the tributes to King that would be given throughout the day. “But my question is, what about tomorrow?” Rhodes said. “What about next week? What about the days to come?”
Referring to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Rhodes said, “I think one of the greatest tributes we can do for Dr. King is to live out his dream and desires for America, to learn to live together daily.”
Rhodes said his experience as an educator and historian has given him his own perspective. People must learn to live together "through knowledge, through information and through thinking,” Rhodes said.
“The Bible says my people perish for lack of knowledge. We all know that knowledge and information are power. James Madison said knowledge will forever govern ignorance and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with power, which knowledge gives.”
Rhodes said one of his favorite King quotes is “we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish as fools.”
Donning his educator’s hat, Rhodes said people often learn tradition — without ever asking “why,” Rhodes said.
When Rhodes was a school principal, Rhodes said, he wanted students to ask questions and not simply repeat what their teachers told them.
“Another way that we learn is to have meaningful relationships and dialogue with people,” Rhodes said. “Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean that we can’t go out after we get through talking and have something to eat or sit down and talk about some other stuff. You’re not going to agree with everybody.”
Rhodes said everyone has cognitive bias, which “becomes part of us and part of our nature and causes us to be biased against new information.
“You’re going to encounter a lot of people,” Rhodes said. “They’re going to make you mad and they’re going to make you upset. You’ll find some people who just don’t get the information that you give them. They’re blind.”
Rhodes told two humorous tales.
In one of the tales, a hunter shoots ducks that fall into the water, and the hunter’s dog runs across the surface of the water to retrieve the ducks.
Astounded, the hunter calls a friend over to watch his dog run on the water. “I don’t think your dog can swim,” the friend tells the hunter.
“You’ll have people that you try to explain things and give them great information and they just don’t get it,” Rhodes said.
“You’ll have people who know about history. They know the truth about history but they’ll lie and when you quiz them about it, they’ll fool around and make you look like you’re lying.”
In the other tale, a police officer stops a motorist for speeding. The motorist tells the officer he doesn’t have his license or registration. When the officer asks the motorist to open the trunk of his car, the motorist says he can’t because there is a body in the trunk.
The officer calls for backup, and a sergeant and other officers arrive. The motorist tells the sergeant he has his license and registration, and opens his car’s trunk, revealing that there is no body inside.
“The officer said I didn’t have my license and I have my license,” the motorist tells the sergeant. “He said I don’t have my registration and I have my registration. He said I have somebody in the trunk. I didn’t have anybody in the trunk. I just want to say this. He probably told you I was speeding too, didn’t he?”
“So people who do have the truth will lie,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes encouraged his listeners to “always put your faith in God. Always put your faith in the creator of heaven and earth.”
Brownwood’s Mayor Haynes described King as “a wise leader who understood some very important biblical principals.”
King understood the biblical command to “love your enemies and pray for those who spitefully use you,” Haynes said.
“We live in a world that is fallen by sin and although we would love for us all to be unified, we’re divided," Haynes said. "We find ourselves in a world that feels as though it’s more divided than it’s ever been. Some of that of course is racism, and although we’ve made great progress, there’s a lot of work left to do.”
Haynes said the “innumerable” list of issues dividing the nation include political and socio-economic division.
“I’m going to ask you, in the honor of Dr. King, that you put onto your heart the concepts that he lived by,” Haynes said. “Whoever it is that’s your adversary, pray for them. Pray for you enemies.
“Love those who persecute you and if we can do that, maybe the most recalcitrant of heart will turn to Christ. Maybe through the love of our lord and savior, we’ll be united together as a country if we act in the way that Dr. King called for us to act, who also called for us to be more like Christ. May it be so.”