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Young and old pack St. John Baptist Church for MLK program
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A dramatization is performed from the musical performance "Blackish" by youth Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, during the Newtown Florist Club King Holiday Observance Program at St. John Baptist Church. - photo by Scott Rogers

People of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds packed into St. John Baptist Church in Gainesville on Monday, Jan. 21 to commemorate the man whose dream impacted the nation.

The 2019 King Holiday Observance Program celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy through providing messages from speakers, hand-in-hand prayer, and live entertainment from local youth performers Perfect Imperfections.

“I enjoyed the young people expressing themselves through performance and the variety of speakers,” Sandra Williams said. “On this day, to come together, that is what we envision.”

Coordinated by Newtown Florist Club, Monday marked the program’s 48th year in Gainesville.

Embracing the day’s theme — Stand up, speak up, be active and participate — community leaders took to the podium to explain the importance of standing up for education, immigration, voting rights and citizen participation.

Marisa Pyle, the 21-year-old co-founder of the political activist group Indivisible Lumpkin, called people to fight for what they believe in and not be afraid to challenge those in power. Since early 2017, Pyle said the group has organized more than three dozen rallies, and coordinated lobbying days, canvassing and voter registration.

“If there’s one thing that leaders, change makers and civil rights leaders have showed me is that people are going to call us radical no matter what we say, and no matter what we do,” she said. “So, stand up for something. Speak out for what is right. Change is always radical.”

The Rev. Rose Johnson, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club, honored five people and one group that have dedicated themselves to the cause of civil and human rights. These leaders were presented with the six different Drum Major for Justice Awards.

Johnson gave the Equal Justice and Advocacy Award to Georgia Mountains Unitarian Universalist Church for their efforts in the struggle for social justice.

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Newtown Florist Club executive director Rev. Rose Johnson joins in singing the Negro National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, during the Holiday Observance Program at St. John Baptist Church. - photo by Scott Rogers

Jerry Castleberry received the Community Service Award for embodying MLK’s servant spirit to others. The Young Leader of the Year went to Pyle for her role in activism across Georgia.

Maria Del Rosario Palacios earned the Rosa Parks Human Rights Award for her steadfast efforts in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality for everyone.

The 2019 Drum Major of the Year was presented to Times reporter Joshua Silavent.

“He exceeds the bounds of what it means to be committed to the cause of poverty and eradicating poverty and homelessness in Gainesville, Hall County,” Johnson said.  

For his committed work to voter protection in Georgia, Johnson presented John Powers with the Outstanding Justice Award for Legal Advocacy.

As the keynote speaker, the Rev. Robert S. King of St. Paul United Methodist Church Summit Street, wrapped up the morning’s program with a message about “growing a beautiful neighborhood.”

Taking inspiration from The Bible’s parable of the good Samaritan, he encouraged the crowd to not turn their eyes away from vulnerable people who need love and care.

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Visitors to St. John Baptist Church hold hands in prayer Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, during the Newtown Florist Club King Holiday Observance Program. - photo by Scott Rogers

He said the first lesson in building a beautiful community starts with “checking your vision.”

Instead of seeing others as an inconvenience, he said people need to view them differently.

“We see them as worthy of care, worthy of respect, worthy of equal rights, worthy of access to adequate housing, worthy of being treated fairly, worthy of having an excellent education, worthy of having opportunity to live, worthy of working a job that will pay them a living wage,” King said. “We have to see them as a child of God.”

The second lesson about growing a beautiful neighborhood he said involves caring generously for others like the good Samaritan did for the half-dead traveler.

In order to practically implement this growth, King said people need to be born again by the faith of God, see every person as a child of God and serve someone in need in the community.

“As we do these things, we can grow a more beautiful neighborhood here in Gainesville,” King said. “As we do these things we can grow a more beautiful nation. As we do these things we can grow more beautiful homes. As we do these things we can grow a beautiful neighborhood right here today. So, let’s go and grow together.”

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