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King Day service rocks church

With song, oratory and dance, participants pay tribute to the man and his message: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

[Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
The Sanctuary of Praise step dancers perform during Martin Luther King Jr. Day services at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Dade City on Monday.

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 22, 2002

DADE CITY -- The floor of tiny St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church rocked and shook with the joyful songs of the choir and the impassioned message of the speakers at Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day service.

More than 150 people packed the small church, located along a street named in King's honor. A choir of local youths, a thunderous dance troupe from Orlando and speakers from area churches filled the brightly lit sanctuary with King's message of hope and equality.

"Our duty: to let freedom ring down the streets of Dade City," said speaker Felisha Barker. "Let freedom ring down on the avenues of Zephyrhills. Let freedom ring down the dirt roads of Trilby. Let freedom ring by the railroad tracks of Lacoochee. From every hill and dried-up lake in Pasco County, from every direction, let freedom ring."

The two-hour service opened with the Community Youth Choir's rhythmic procession, which shook the building as audience members rose to their feet and swayed to the music while sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows.

The tempo built as speakers read from the Bible and echoed King's message of equality punctuated by the pounding step dance performance by Orlando's Sanctuary of Praise dancers led by Angelia Everett. Speaker Betsy Dobson drew shouts of approval with her reading of the poem I Am a Black Woman, and Dade City and Zephyrhills officials read city proclamations in King's honor.

But it was the Rev. Steve Nunn's oratory that capped the event, his pleas for peace and message of equality and harmony reverberating off the walls as his voice rose and fell.

"Today we are celebrating a great man, a champion of justice, a drum major for righteousness," Nunn said.

King, who would have been 73 this month, led the nation's civil rights movement in the 1950s and '60s, calling for nonviolent protest and peace. In April 1968 he was shot dead by an assassin in Memphis. He was 39.

Nunn said King's work accomplished much, but there is more to be done.

Black Americans continue to struggle against inner demons of poverty and illiteracy, drugs and unemployment, Nunn said. Those problems, he said, keep black people from achieving their goals.

But they aren't the only impediments.

Nunn also said old hatreds and distrust among members of different races have been handed down generation to generation.

Faith in God, trust in the lessons of the Bible and a willingness to put inner spirituality ahead of worldly concerns would benefit all races, he said.

"If Dr. King were here today, he would probably tell us, he would say, "People, especially black folks, we have made tremendous progress . . . but let's not get comfortable or complacent,' " Nunn said. "I believe Dr. King would say, "I have a dream, but right now, it's still a nightmare.' "

All races, Nunn said, need to move past ignorance and racism.

"White America, today I come to serve notice that in the past, your daddies were wrong," Nunn said. "Black America, today I come to tell you some of the things you did in the past, your daddies were wrong. When they told you to hate, distrust and segregate, they were wrong."

Organizing committee president Irene Dobson told the crowd Monday's program honors King's lifetime and encourages everyone to try harder to achieve his goals, making life better for each new generation.

"We didn't have to do what our parents did," Dobson said. "Now we're coming up, and we hope the generation behind us will not have to do what we had to do."

"Let's not let this be a one-day event," Nunn implored in his closing. "This is a dream and a struggle that we must live every day."

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