King's 75th birthday celebrated

January 20, 2004|HERB BROCK

After Cole Overstreet sang "Jesus Is The Center of My Joy," it was clear the 10-year-old boy had become the center of the joy for the more than 200 people listening to him Monday afternoon at Danville's First Baptist Church, Second and Walnut streets.

Wearing a poker face and showing little emotion as he sang a powerful rendition of the old gospel hymn, Cole brought smiles to the faces of the congregation and generated plenty of emotion. At the end of the Bate Middle School student's solo, the crowd leapt to its feet - that is, those who had not already stood up during the performance - and gave him a standing ovation.

Cole's singing, accompanied on the piano by his cousin, Brent Faulkner, and the reaction to it reflected a birthday party atmosphere - and that's exactly what he and the other people inside First Baptist were throwing. They were celebrating the 75th birthday of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


The celebration, conducted this year under the theme "Let Freedom Ring," began with several solo and choral performances of mainly gospel songs during a songfest. And the focus of this year's songfest definitely was on youth. The other youngster drawing loud applause while drawing the crowd into his songs was Maricus Lofton.

Lofton, a Danville High School student and an award-winning member of the DHS forensics team, performed a medley of songs, including "A Closer Walk With Thee" and "Amazing Grace."

Groups who performed included the Adult Choir, the Men's Choir and the Women's Choir of First Baptist. They also drew warm responses from the crowd.

After the musical kickoff to the celebration, many in the congregation donned heavy winter coats to brave subfreezing temperatures for the march through downtown Danville.

Following the march, the congregation returned to the church for the actual service, which including the singing of the Negro National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice And Sing," Scripture readings and prayers. The guest speaker was the Rev. John Short III, pastor of Centennial Baptist Church in Harrodsburg.

Short urged members of the congregation, especially the young people, to pursue as many educational and career opportunities as possible. He said there is more work to be done to knock down barriers to those opportunities, but there are enough for African-Americans to take advantage of - if they are willing.

"Dr. King helped lead the way toward the creation of many opportunities for blacks, for everyone in this society," said Short. "He envisioned his movement leading to a bounty of opportunities. He didn't envision his people missing those opportunities.

"We all need to get refocused on what King envisioned for us. We need to get back in the right direction," he said. "We now have educational opportunities our fathers and grandfathers never imagined. It is up to us to take advantage of them," he said.

"It was King's dream to have opportunities for us. It would be the realization of that dream if we pursued them."

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