King sets the stage for a boy’s appreciation

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 21, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; At 10 years old, Treyvon Walker could barely reach the microphone.

But when he spoke, he spoke loud and proud, reciting several minutes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s &uot;I Have a Dream&uot; speech with hardly a stumble.

Welcome to the annual Natchez Association for the Preservation of African-American Culture’s &uot;I Have a Dream&uot; Luncheon where, on King’s birthday, youth led a packed house in a celebration of his life.

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Themes of freedom, faith, accountability and African-American pride were expressed in almost every way, from dance and song to drama and poetry that drew several standing ovations.

If the students who led and performed in Monday’s event are the Miss-Lou’s future leaders, said Mistress of Ceremonies and Natchez High student Brittany Bell, &uot;We’re in store for some great days ahead of us.&uot;

The program included gospel soloists and dance routines by several church praise groups as well as student readings of poetry on themes from slavery to achievement.

There were the Friends of Youth, an organization whose &uot;Stomp&uot;-inspired routine was punctuated by shouts of &uot;who says we can’t be drug free?&uot;

Antioch Baptist Church’s Denzell Anderson, who needed a lift to speak into the microphone himself, read a &uot;letter&uot; he wrote to King.

In it, Anderson told King of school violence and of the drug use that, Anderson wrote, is keeping some black people enslaved.

But he also told King of the freedoms black people enjoy today because of the struggles of civil rights leaders.

His grandmother has told Anderson of the days when restaurants were segregated, &uot;but because of you I can eat Š any place I want to go,&uot; he read.

Later, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Original King Kids of America &045; who founder Charmion Johnson Polk said have memorized all or part of many King speeches &045; led the crowd in inspirational songs.

Several of them even took the flag-draped stage to deliver some of the King speeches and writings they have memorized.

In addition to King’s &uot;I Have a Dream&uot; speech, those included writings on self-confidence from his &uot;Advice for Living,&uot; published in Ebony magazine in the late 1950s.

They also included an excerpt from King’s &uot;Promised Land&uot; speech, which he delivered on April 3, 1968 &045; one day before he was shot and killed.

King was a great civil rights leader, but the dream did not start with him, keynote speaker the Rev. Charles Chandler reminded the crowd.

Leaders like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois and Carter G. Woodson led the way, and King recognized that, said Chandler, pastor of St. Mark Baptist Church of Clayton, La.

&uot;The dream didn’t start with Martin Luther King Jr. It started somewhere on a slave ship,&uot; Chandler said. &uot;Someone said, ‘Before I go to my grave, I will do everything in my power Š to insure freedom for my people’.&uot;

In a time when poverty, a lack of education and the problem of drugs keep many people down, &uot;the time has come for you to pick up the torch&uot; and realize your destiny, Chandler said.