Message of hope faith on King's day
By MONIQUE FIELDS, Times Staff Writer
CLEARWATER -- The Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III knows all about being hated.
He remembers black children and adults being hit and buffeted by water from fire hoses just because of the color of their skin.
"Blacks can tell you, America. Been there. Done that," said Rivers, director of national field operations for the NAACP.
In a speech that was part history lesson, part common sense, Rivers captivated an audience of about 1,400 gathered in Coachman Park to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
If anyone should be angry with the country, other than Native Americans who had their land snatched away, it should be black folks, he said.
But they aren't angry. There hasn't been any act of terrorism committed by the nation's black citizens. Instead, black people have been loving this country since before it was founded, he said.
Some, Rivers said, want to know what's next for the nation in the wake of Sept. 11. He had an answer for that, too.
"Hold on," he said. "Have faith in God."
Listeners laughed at the funny parts and soaked in the serious words of the rally sponsored by the NAACP's Clearwater and upper Pinellas County branch. They even chimed in with a few words of their own.
"All right now."
Earlier, 150 people attended a prayer breakfast at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center. Harvey Lawrence, pastor at the Church of God by Faith, fed the participants' souls with inspirational stories and offered a challenge. He asked everyone to make a concerted effort to meet their neighbors. It would show other countries that Americans possess a sense of solidarity.
"But wait a minute," he said. "If we can't commit to that task, if we can't put this into action, somebody better wake up Martin!"
An hour later, children, mothers, fathers, civic groups and community leaders walked from Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue toward Coachman Park. They were accompanied by the Clearwater and Largo high school bands and marched into the park for a noon rally, where Rivers was the keynote speaker.
He stirred the crowd with a huge helping of inspiration.
His message for the young: Don't justify your failure.
"How dare you fail? Failure is not natural. Failure is unnatural."
And don't let people rush you through your youth.
"You go to bed 18 and wake up at 50," he said. "Slow your roll. Slow down."
For the old: Teach the young that King was simply a man who served people. "Have your children understand they can make it into the kingdom if they serve others and try to help somebody."
For parents: Turn off the television. Give your children books. And give them hope.
"When your boys don't have hope, they kill," he said. "When your girls don't have hope, they turn into prostitutes."
For the women: Respect yourselves. "You must walk with your head held high, with a pep in your step, with a little glide in your stride."
For the men: Be men. It's a hard job, he said. All kind of problems arise: cars break down, the plumbing needs repair. "A daddy's job is to fix it. A man's job is to fix it," he said.
Along the way, men should never forget to respect women and protect their children. "I don't care how many you got," Rivers said. "I don't care who you got them for. You must protect your children."
When it was over, those gathered in the park said they heard Rivers' call to action.
"I'm going to try harder," said 14-year-old Ciera Lee, who attends Largo Middle School.
A few rows back was Johnnie Crawford III, an Osceola High School social studies teacher.
"What hits home for me, because I'm an educator, is young people respecting themselves and particularly young men respecting young ladies . . . because in the schools I see that's not happening."
Not too far from him was Bertha Boone, a minister at the Community Church of Largo.
"I hope they taped it because I would like to hear it again. He spoke the truth. He spoke the truth."
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