Ministers Conference uses MLK Day for series of education/empowerment workshops
Amid the celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and President Barack Obama’s historic second inauguration, local leaders reminded the community Monday that the struggle for equality isn’t over.
Signs calling for the release of Kalvin Michael Smith were prevalent during the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity’s Annual MLK March. Hundreds of community members made the trek down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from the Ministers Conference’s annual MLK Day Youth Rally & Fellowship Breakfast at Mount Zion Baptist Church to Winston-Salem State University’s Anderson Conference Center, where a group of Conference members and community partners known as the MLK Coalition staged a series of workshops.
Smith was convicted in 1996 of the brutal beating of Silk Plant Forest employee Jill Marker, a crime many in the community believe he did not commit. Smith’s case is often likened to that of city native Darryl Hunt, who spent nearly two decades in prison for a murder he did not commit before being exonerated. Hunt, the founder of the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice, facilitated a workshop on Social Justice in North Carolina, alongside the American Civil Liberties Union’s Raul Pinto and newly-elected State Sen. Earline Parmon.
“The dream that Dr. King had is diminishing fast,” Parmon said, noting that the Republican-led General Assembly is considering significant cuts to unemployment benefits in an effort to offset state debt. “…This is how the majority in North Carolina is balancing the budget: on the backs of our most vulnerable people. If we leave today not determined to make a difference, it’s going to be all on us.”
Other workshops included “Know Your Rights,” a roundtable discussion talk for high school and middle school students featuring attorney Barbara Cini of The Dummit Law Firm, Assistant Superintendent Carol Montague-Davis and the Ministers Conference’s Bishop Todd Fulton; and “Facing Foreclosure,” a housing equity and foreclosure prevention session with Dr. Steven Boyd. The sessions were preceded by a spirited program in the Anderson Center’s Dillard Auditorium. Audience members converged on the stage area for an impromptu African dancing session prior to the formal start of the program, which featured the sounds of Otesha Creative Arts Ensemble.
Dr. Peggy Valentine, dean of the School of Health Sciences, said there was ample cause to celebrate.
“As I reflect on today, Martin Luther King’s birthday (observance) and the second inauguration of our president, Barack Obama, I realize what a blessing it is to live in our lifetime,” Valentine declared. “Who would’ve thought that we’d see the change that we’ve witnessed in our lifetime?”
David Butler, WSSU’s 2012-13 Student Government Association president, reminded those present that King’s example is one that all can follow.
“He served as a catalyst for much more than he could’ve done with his own two hands,” pointed out the Charlotte native. “Who will you be a spark to?”
County Commissioner Everette Witherspoon gave an impassioned address and urged audience members to be active in helping to bring about real social change in the local sector.
“Like I always say, you either organize or you agonize,” he remarked. “Let’s get out and organize.”
The Ministers Conference has been hosting events to commemorate King Day for at least two decades, according to newly-elected Conference President Willard Bass. The 2013 celebration, themed “Forward: With and for Others,” deliberately focused on the Coalition, Bass said.
“What we’re trying to do is be inclusive,” he explained. “…We’ve been talking about the need for more collaboration in the community, so we wanted to model that in this year’s celebration.”
Going forward, education will be the key in sustaining the changes the Civil Rights Movement and other initiatives have accomplished, as well as facilitating new strides, which is why the Coalition opted to host the workshops, said Bass, the founder of the Institute for Dismantling Racism.
“We think that there are things that the community needs to be aware of, locally, regionally and statewide,” he said. “We think education is the best way to help people navigate institutions where inequalities still exist.”
Ministers Conference and Coalition members closed out King Day festivities that evening with a 7 p.m. MLK Day Celebration at St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church. Bishop Fulton was keynote speaker at the event, which serves as the chief fundraiser for the Conference’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Seed Fund Scholarships program.
For more information about the Ministers Conference or the scholarship program, visit www.mcwsv.org.