Service takes center stage at MLK event

Jan. 21, 2013 @ 06:46 PM

Sanford's Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremonies Monday were, like King's activism, oriented toward serving future generations.

Former N.C. Senator Eric Mansfield, keynote speaker during the 16th annual celebration at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center, told the audience they would be hypocritical if they simply returned home and went about their lives with no thought toward how they could help better themselves or someone else.

"If the only thing you can do after this service is say how nice it was ... there's something wrong with that," said Mansfield, a veteran, physician, preacher and politician who was raised by a single mother for much of his life. "Dr. King did not fight and die for you to do nothing."

He took the stage just after a rousing rendition of "How Great is Our God," laughing and telling the audience, "It's dangerous to do that in front of a Baptist preacher. Makes me want to go into Scripture."

And while Mansfield didn't quote any Bible verses, religion featured prominently in his speech, which he delivered as if he was speaking from a church pulpit instead of a convention hall podium.

Listing a long line of famous, white Americans, Mansfield gave one or more black counterparts for every single one, making the point that greatness is not unique to any one race and never has been — even under the oppressive conditions of Jim Crow or slavery. He also chastised the media for perpetrating stereotypes of black people as nothing but pimps and prostitutes, drug dealers or drug users, just as he chastised those who buy into stereotypes instead of following positive role models.

"I would say to those young people, that you don't know your history," he said.

After his speech, volunteers handed out fliers praising Obama for his administration's work on various domestic and foreign policy achievements, emblazoned with the phrase, "Fighting so we all have a shot, not just a lucky few."

That populist message was similar to the one Mansfield — who's campaigning against Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller to become chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party — had in urging all people to come together.

"We are better off when we pray — P-R-A-Y — for each other than when we prey on each other," he said, expanding praying into a willingness to serve, as well. "... Get up and do something. Not as black or white, Latino or Asian; Jew, Protestant, Catholic or Muslim. Do something as an American."

Service was the theme of the day, as well as the criteria for receiving an award from the event's co-sponsors, Wilson & Reives Law Firm and the Council for Effective Actions and Decisions. Attorney Bill Wilson presented the awards, given to Kate Rumely and Ken Armstrong.

Rumely is the executive director of Brick Capital Community Development Corporation, which helps people get affordable housing and find other resources, such as counseling. She also helped turn the former W.B. Wicker School into Central Carolina Community College's Lifelong Learning Center.

Armstrong is the executive director of the Sanford Housing Authority and has increased both the amount and types of affordable housing in the area in addition to working with the local Boys & Girls Club, of which he is a past president.

"They have given their time. They've worked and done exemplary things they didn't have to do," Wilson said.

Sticking to the same theme, former Lee County Board of Commissioners candidate Ron Hewett advocated for volunteerlee.com, an online movement to connect would-be volunteers with churches, schools and other groups that need help. Quoting King, Hewett pleaded with people to become more involved in the community.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter," he said.