The faithful reflect on the legacy of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
Although schools in Louisiana were desegregated just before Charles Lee Bilberry’s senior year in 1969, he was not allowed to attend his graduation ceremony, he said, because “white parents didn’t want their kids to graduate with kids of color.”
Bilberry graduated from the principal’s office and soon moved to southern Nevada. He remembered his mother’s hug and kiss on the cheek when she told him, “Son, when you go to Las Vegas, be the best you can be.”
He spoke about the moment Sunday afternoon during an interfaith service at Second Baptist Church in the historic Westside to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday.
And while Blueberry also faced discrimination in Las Vegas, he kept his mother’s promise, attending UNLV, becoming a published author, and retiring as a supervising engineer after 30 years at Las Vegas Water. District.
Quoting a speech by King, Bilberry told the nearly 100 worshipers to “be the best you can be: if you want to be a street sweeper, sweep the streets like Michelangelo painted a picture, but be the best street sweeper you can be. street that there is on the street.”
The church service was part of a series of King Week events organized by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, including the 40th annual parade honoring the civil rights icon Monday morning through downtown Vegas.
The 90-group procession is due to start at 10 a.m. at Fourth Street and Gass Avenue and end at Ogden Avenue.
Governor Steve Sisolak, former Metropolitan Police Department undersheriff Kevin McMahill and the Reverend Clayton D. Moore of Second Baptist were among the speakers on Sunday.
“I want to remind ourselves that the privileges we enjoy today weren’t always like this,” Moore said. “There was a time in American history when we were separated, not only because of our economic circumstances, but also because of the color of our skin.”
Congregants cheered as Moore asked, “We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?”
Still, the fight for equality isn’t over, Moore said, citing “separate systems,” including schooling, the economy and even the way Americans worship.
“Sunday morning services,” he said, “are still among the most segregated times in the US mandate.”
Interfaith services like the one on Sundays, which have speakers from different religious denominations, aim to remedy this.
“One of the big things for Dr. King to reflect on is that the fight isn’t over,” Moore said. “The occasion is not for us simply to look back, but rather to seek, to go forward: that equality must be made available, that justice must be practiced tempered with mercy.”
Sonya Pearson, vice president and vice president of the Charleston Campus of the College of Southern Nevada, said King’s legacy “has left its mark” in her life.
“The struggle is still there. I didn’t start this day thinking it was going to be easy,” she said. “My color was very light.”
Pearson, who said she was the first black student to enroll at a university in Missouri in 2001, noted that young black people now have the opportunity not only to say what they want to be, but also to demand change when they witness injustice.
“God gave me the idea to be a doctor, to be a lawyer, to be a licensed professional counselor,” she said, describing her career in academia as a calling. “But here’s the thing: you can have all these titles and initials behind your name, it doesn’t mean anything.”
The program included live music, with worshipers clapping and rocking their bodies from side to side, and the Las Vegas Unity Dancers, who twisted their bodies to a recording of a worship song.
In brief remarks, Sisolak addressed the racial progress that has been made in Nevada, but noted that there is still a long way to go, promising his office would continue to fight inequality.
Later, Sisolak took to Twitter to thank the Las Vegas congregation and condemn scenes at a Texas synagogue, where a man disrupted a service and took people hostage on Saturday before being killed by a squad. FBI hostage rescue.
“Today in particular, I reflect on how we must ensure that places of worship remain safe places of refuge,” the governor wrote.
McMahill, who is campaigning to become Clark County’s next sheriff, spoke about the history of racism in the criminal justice system.
“We have to recognize history,” he said. “We need to acknowledge what happened so that we never repeat this story, which we learn from the mistakes we made.”
He said police-community relations have transformed the Historic Westside into one of the safest communities in the Valley.
“I’m going to continue to make sure that these authentic relationships are built so that we continue to see the humanity in each other, that you don’t see me as a white man and I see you as a black man, that see us that we are human beings, first and foremost,” McMahill said to applause.
He quoted King as saying that “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. And I love you, and I love this community.
Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @rickytwrites.
Review-Journal photographer Rachel Aston contributed to this story.