LUMBERTON — With just four days before Donald Trump takes office as the nation’s president, those attending the Robeson County’s Black Caucus-sponsored Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Monday were urged to support the new president, and were offered hope for the quick and efficient rebuilding of hurricane-ravaged South Lumberton.
“Donald Trump, whether you like it or not, is the president-elect,” said the Rev. Arnold B. Coley Jr., the event’s keynote speaker. “Stop whining and crying and live like you did before. Whatever happens down the road, the Lord will make it right.”
Coley added that not all whites who voted for Trump should be considered racist.
“They have their interests just as you do,” he said.
Coley, a native of Philadelphia who was raised in Goldsboro, is currently the senior pastor at Poplar Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Pinebluff. He recently retired as an investigator for the North Carolina Human Relations Commission and currently serves as the senior chaplain for the Fayetteville Police Department.
During his remarks to about 100 county residents who came to McCormick Chapel AME church to celebrate and remember the renowned civil rights leader’s accomplishments, Coley gave a brief historical account of how King and his followers used nonviolent tactics to “break down discrimination.”
“We have come a long way but we still have a long way to go,” Coley said. “Injustice anywhere is a threat. Whether you are white, black or blue, lives matter … . When you are in a storm you have to keep moving. There are still hills to climb and sometimes you will be up and sometimes down.”
For many at Monday’s celebration, the event was especially meaningful because it was held at the only church in South Lumberton spared by Hurricane Matthew’s floodwaters. Many of the people who attended have lost their homes and are trying to rebuild their lives.
The theme of Monday’s celebration was “Rebuilding South Lumberton and Receiving Its Fair Share of Revenue.” According to the Rev. Jimmy Gilchrist, president of Robeson County’s chapter of the Black Caucus, FEMA is not helping the people in South Lumberton with all of the financial assistance they need to rebuild their lives.
“We’ve got a long way to go in South Lumberton and Robeson County,” Gilchrist said. “Everyone agrees that South Lumberton was hit the hardest, but it is not receiving the money it deserves.”
Gilchrist pledged that he will work with FEMA and all other government agencies to get all the financial assistance possible for South Lumberton. He believes FEMA should provide all those eligible for assistance full 100 percent reimbursement for their storm-related losses.
While hurricane recovery efforts were clearly on everyone’s mind, King was the focus of Monday’s celebration. In addition to the keynote speaker, tributes to King were offered by Lumberton Mayor Bruce Davis and Lumberton Councilman John Cantey. Robeson County District Court Judge Judith Daniels introduced Coley, the McCormick Chapel Choir performed, and Davis, Cantey and Lumberton Mayor Pro-tem John Robinson presented a resolution and pin to Coley from the city as recognition for his years of community service.
Cantey, in his remarks, reminded the people attending the celebration that King’s goal of equality for everyone has still not been reached. He said King’s dream of a vibrant, multi-racial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation is still out of grasp.
“Today is a new day, a day to accept the challenge of change,” Cantey said. “It’s a day to accept the challenge of equality, the challenge of working together, the challenge of putting self last and others first, and helping our brother and sister.”
In closing, Cantey asked those at the celebration two questions: “I ask each of you. Where do you or we stand today? Have you done enough or can we do more?”
King, who was murdered in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, preached nonviolence as he galvanized the nation in the 1960s, urging equality for all. He would have turned 88 years old on Sunday.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.