By Jill Harmacinski
---- — More than 100 people came to remember slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in prayer and song on Monday during the seventh annual celebration of his life at Andover Baptist Church.
The Unity Choir started the 11 a.m. service by singing “Jesus Promised He’ll Take Care of Me,” which drew people to their feet, clapping and singing along.
Attorney Damon Smith, the deputy general counsel for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, delivered the keynote speech. Smith is the younger brother of church first lady Tesha Myers, the wife of Andover Baptist’s pastor, Rev. Lyndon A. Myers.
Smith spoke of King’s influence on both his professional and personal life during the energetic and poignant ceremony.
“His legacy is fundamental to who I am,” Smith said.
During the ceremony, various members of the congregation stood and recited powerful quotes from civil rights leaders, including Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou and Nelson Mandela. There were also performances by the group Choral Majority and a liturgical dance performance on the church altar by Lakyia Burnes and Claudia Hyppolite-Fils.
Smith said he’s grateful for what King did to shape his life and he and his wife are also instilling those same values in their children.
“I didn’t know what I was capable of until I (was) inspired to do my best,” Smith said.
Smith described King as a “drum major for justice,” pointing to his courageous and tireless work to improve economic opportunity, equality and voting rights for all.
Throughout his lifetime (1929-1968), King worked tireless for civil rights and is probably best known for his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered in Washington, D.C. to a quarter million people. At age 35, he became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. On April 4, 1968 he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.
But Smith said King also taught him to have faith. And when he explained why, many in the congregation were moved to tears.
Smith spoke of his son, Christopher, born in 2006 with a birth defect that kept him in the hospital for the first eight months of his life. He said his family was surrounded by wonderful doctors and nurses, relatives and friends, and charities offering their help them during the difficult time.
Smith described a night he spent in the hospital by his infant son after Christopher developed a staph infection, which doctors described as “all but a death sentence.”
“The longest night of my life ... while the poison of the infection coursed through his little body,” he said.
During that night, Smith said he prayed for God’s help and his mercy. And “slowly, but surely” Christopher’s heart rate came down and he fought the infection.
Today, Christopher is a precocious 7-year-old who is in the first grade, loves T-ball and soccer and “will talk all day long,” his father was happy to report.
“It is amazing that Martin Luther King Jr. could teach me so much and the main thing he’s taught us is to have faith ...
“That is by far the best lesson Dr. King teaches us — to have that faith, to use that faith,” said Smith, who received a standing ovation.
A southern luncheon in the church hall followed the program.