The Montgomery County-Radford City-Floyd County Branch of the NAACP hosted the area’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Celebration on Jan. 16 online. Nearly 100 computers were logged on to the celebration.
The celebration opened with greetings from branch President Deborah Travis and an invocation by the Rev. Kathy Carpenter. Then came the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” led by Alan Johnson and Denise Smith. Greetings were brought from the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP by President Robert N. Barnette, Jr., who emphasized the importance of protecting voting rights and voting options in the state.
The Youth Council honored Dr. King with a summary of his life by Youth Council Vice President Melvin Palmer. Then Youth Council President Tyler Graves delivered the poem “There is a street named after Martin Luther King, Jr. in every city,” by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib.
The annual MRF NAACP Branch Community Service Awards in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., went to the Rev. Jessie Eaves of Blacksburg, and to the Rev. Michael Sanborn, of Elliston.
Rev. Eaves is an associate pastor and worship leader of the Greater Mount Zion United Holy Church in Christiansburg and is a retired fiscal technician. She worked at Virginia Tech for 28 years and received the 2015 Staff Career Achievement Award. Having grown up in Wake Forest, she has helped to preserve the history of that African-American community as well as its nearby cemetery. This has led her to volunteer with the Saint Luke’s Odd Fellows Hall and the Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation. Rev. Eaves currently serves as Vice President of the Christiansburg Institute Alumni Association, as a board member of the Blacksburg Police Department Citizens Advisory Board andas a member of the Dialogue on Race Law Enforcement Committee. Rev. Eaves has been a member of the local branch of the NAACP for over 20 years. Jessie and her husband Butch are parents of two daughters, one of whom is deceased. They have four grandchildren.
Rev. Sanborn is a retired United Methodist minister who served several congregations, including Park UMC in Christiansburg. Knowing the importance and power of the vote, Rev. Sanborn has volunteered as an election official for several years at the Elliston precinct. He has been a member of the Dialogue on Race Law Enforcement committee for several years and provides input and leadership to help resolve racial inequities in our area. Rev. Sanborn is a Silver Life member of the NAACP, serves as an executive committee member, and chairs the Religious Affairs Committee.
In this latter role, he works to bring faith communities together for conversation and dialogue to help resolve social justice and civil rights issues. Before his calling as a pastor, Rev. Sanborn was a chief engineer in the Merchant Marines. Mike and his wife Lois have two sons and seven grandchildren.
The Samuel H. Clark Memorial Scholarship Fund offers up to five scholarships of $1,000 each to youth who extend their education beyond high school at a college or technical school. Branch Treasurer Dr. Jill Stewart reported that this year a scholarship was awarded to Jera Miah Lewis, who graduated from Christiansburg High School and now attends Radford University, where she is studying to be a nurse. To be eligible, youth must be a member of the MRF Youth Council or be a child or grandchild of a branch member and live in this area.
Karen Eley Sanders introduced the keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Tommy McDearis, who has pastored Blacksburg Baptist Church since 1997. Rev. McDearis recounted memories of growing up in a small town in the South where schools were integrated only when he entered the fourth grade. His experience was that the difficulties of integration came from the adults and not from the children.
When he questioned the awkward and unfair arrangements of segregation, he found the adults unwilling to answer his questions. He remembered Dr. King being called evil and a troublemaker, and when King was assassinated, he remembers that some white adults openly celebrated. He said he was unable to reconcile the attitudes and behavior of church members with the Jesus that he and they worshipped.
Rev. McDearis observed that while the prejudices of today are more subtle and less vehement, they are just as real. Just as voting rights were an important issue in the 1960s, they are an important issue now, he said. While we look back to celebrate the work of Dr. King more than 50 years ago, we also need to look forward to the changes we know still need to happen to embody his dream, Rev. McDears said. He closed by quoting a number of lines from Dr. King, including “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.” He then encouraged listeners to join in carrying on the legacy of Dr. King.
Judy Barylske, co-chair of the branch’s education committee, announced a new initiative during Black History Month in February. The committee will conduct a book drive to spread awareness of local African-American history. This will follow on the very successful book drive last year to promote family reading and early childhood literacy through local schools. Details will be forthcoming.
Branch President Deborah H. Travis thanked the guest speaker, all of the program participants, and Karen Jones for the technological arrangements that made the online celebration possible. President Travis urged those gathered to follow King’s example and continue the work of advocating justice for all.
The general body meetings of the local NAACP are on the fourth Sunday of each month. Email email@example.com for a link to the virtual meetings. Everyone is welcome. Information about the Montgomery County-Radford City-Floyd County NAACP Branch #7092 is available at mrfnaacp.org or https://www.facebook.com/mrfnaacp.org. To make a donation to the Samuel H. Clark Scholarship fund, write a check to “M-R-F NAACP” and mark it for “Scholarship Fund” in the memo line. Then mail the donation to: M-R-F NAACP, PO Box 6044, Christiansburg, VA 24068.