With the flags of no fewer than 15 countries draped from the upper balcony, Andover’s Baptist Church was a fitting venue for today’s celebration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The flags represented the nationalities of every church congregant, and on Monday an extraordinarily diverse group gathered to hear musical performances, prayer, as well as a Keynote Address from the Reverend Dr. Emmett Price, III.
The theme of this 10th annual Martin Luther King Day celebration and luncheon was “Building Comm-’Unity’ - Using Teamwork to Make the Dreamwork,” and those who took the stage built upon these ideas through speech and song.
It was a celebration of Dr. King, but more importantly of his legacy and message, and its relevance within and without the walls of the Andover Baptist Church. Speaking to a crowd representing myriad races, religions and national origins, “We are the evidence,” Pastor Lyndon A. Myers said, “of what he marched for.”
Following a performance from The ABC Unity Choir & The Choral Majority, Cantor Idan Irelander and Temple Emmanuel Abbas played a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and the song Kol Ha’Olam Kulo, which translates from Hebrew to “The Whole World.” Denise Wynn, Andover Baptist Church’s Publicity chairwoman, then introduced the keynote speaker.
Price’s speech touched on a multitude of themes surrounding the role of the individual in the world community.
He spoke of the importance of personal responsibility as well as personal humility, and indeed he seemed to call on those listening to seek balance in their roles as citizens of the world. He discussed commonalities between Dr. King’s legacy and the personal narratives of everyone present, describing each individual as “an ordinary person with an extraordinary task,” with part of that task being learning to work as a team.
There is both “a challenge and a risk there,” he explained, because “if any one of us becomes too inflated ... then you realize that you’re not part of the team. You’re going to be above and beyond the team.” At the same time, he laid the challenge at his listeners’ feet in starkly individual terms, when he said each person was “being told actively to be a game changer in this society ... . That’s why we’re here. We want to be challenged and charged to figure out what our role is.”
Echoing Pastor Myers’ words describing the Church’s congregation, a broadly diverse population coming together with a unity of purpose, as a sort of manifestation of Dr. King’s dream, Price suggested that in our perception of ourselves and our fellow human beings we might employ “a little corrective vision ... just ever so slightly change our lens.”
From the arrival of the human species on planet Earth, he said, “breathing the living breath, up through humanity to today, we have diversity that was a gift.” But diversity is not always treated that way, and in a reference to the current political climate he warned that “the moment you rob any individual of their dignity you have gone too far ... . Regardless of how you look at or approach the political season we have just come out of, the reality is that there was too much hate.”
Part of the solution, Price said, lies with each individual making an effort to get to know his and her neighbors, to listen and communicate with respect. It is respect that fosters understanding, and understanding that builds a sense of community. “We don’t have to agree on everything. We don’t have to understand everything. But I’ll tell you what: the more I get to know you, the more I love you.” By contrast, “the less we get to know one another, the more it can super-inflate those things that are divisive.” If we take the time and make the effort, Dr. Price believes, “Our diversity can be a blessing again.”
Wrapping up his speech shortly before the day’s planned “soul-filling” luncheon, “Some of y’all like your collard greens steamed. Some of y’all like your collard greens with a little pork fat in there. No matter what your nuances and proclivities are, we are of the same. Dr. King came not just to save black folk, but to save all folk,” Price said to applause. Following Price’s remarks, Deacon John Morgan drove home the message, saying today was about “more than the dream, [also] the actualizing; making it work.”
Throughout the musical performances and the singing of hymns the word on everybody’s lips was “Hallelujah.” Noting that this word is a transliteration of a Hebrew word roughly translating to “praise God,” attendee Ivy Rabinowitz of Andover said, “We are all so much more alike than we are different.” If there is any one sentiment today’s hosts would have liked the participants to take away from the event, this was it.