Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Enthusiasm undaunted at belated MLK observance in SW Virginia

MLK Day observance was delayed to allow students from UVa-Wise and the Flatwoods Job Corps Center to return from the holiday break and take part.



Stephen Igo —sigo@timesnews.net

From left, UVa-Wise students Shaqueth Green of New York City, Hantz-Jerry Pierre of Haiti, Rouqui Toure of Mauritania, and Blain Bekele of Ethiopia enjoy dinner for a belated MLK Day observance Monday at the Wise Church of God.

WISE — Folks in Wise held honors for the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a week later than the rest of the nation on Monday, but that made the tribute all the more special for the area faithful to his cause.

Sponsored by the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, MLK Day organizers wanted to hold off this year’s observances to allow students from the college and the area’s Flatwoods Job Corps Center to return from the recent holidays and take part as usual.

The wait provided some international flavor for at least one table at the annual fellowship dinner at the Wise Church of God. UVa-Wise students Hantz-Jenny Pierre, 22; Rouqui Toure, 21, of Mauritania; and Blain Bekele, 21, of Ethiopia, joined their pal Shaqueth Green, 21, of New York City to get a taste of a down-home MLK tribute, mountain style.

“I know he was an activist,” said Toure, amending her comment to “civil rights activist” prodded by discreet coaching from Green. “I know he fought his life for minorities.”

“For all people,” Green continued to coach.

Asked why they attended, Toure had a better question for her Caucasian table mates. “Why are you guys here?” she asked. “Support,” replied Sandy Meade of Pound. “Keep it alive.”

A week late or not, another upbeat crowd kept alive the Wise MLK Day observance, which would include the annual candlelight march from Wise Christian to Wise Baptist Church. Wise Baptist Pastor Ray Jones was featured speaker this year, and the always popular Mount Sinai Spirituals, an allmale gospel group from Lynch, Ky., was on hand for a sequel.
“Our group formed at our church just for us men to hang out. Then we started singing, and we’ve been at it ever since,” said Roy Stephens. “It’s a privilege to do it because we do it for God. We’re singing for the Lord.”

“It means a lot to me,” said group member Cleophas Maxie. “We like to spread God’s gospel around and just have us a time doing it.”

The group’s president, Rutland Melton, said the annual MLK observance “is a good thing, and we really enjoyed last year.”

Member Bennie Massey added the group has “been over here since they started doing it, what? Sixteen years? It’s just good to see the community coming together. That’s what it’s all about.”

Some other Spirituals members chimed in, including Patrick Perry, Ray Wilson and Terry Tinsley. “This has been going on about 16 years, so I’m very excited to be here again. Just serve the Lord, sing, and just glad to be here,” said Wilson.

Arthur Mabry of Lebanon brought his 4-year-old fireball of a son,
Peyton, for the celebration.

“I’m here about every year,” he said. “I’ll sort of get (Peyton) in on it early. Start bringing him every year so he’ll start catching on and see what it’s all about.”

Libby Stephens of Lynch brought her children, 9-year-old Carlee and 12-year-old Terrance, to partake of the celebrations as well. Libby is white and wants her children to delve into as much of their dual-race heritage as much as possible.

“Something like this helps give them some of their black heritage,” she said. “There’s not a lot in this part of the country for African Americans heritage-wise. So anything you can give them, you give them.”

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