FRONT ROYAL — The Warren and Page County branch of the NAACP celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday by reflecting on the changes in race relations over the last 60 years and the challenges the black community still faces.
More than 60 people attended the event, which was held at the Warren County Community Center and featured gospel songs by the Trumpeteers of Marshall, preaching by the Rev. Herman Nelson of Shiloh Baptist Church of Middleburg and remarks by Suetta Freeman, president of the Warren and Page County NAACP.
The program’s theme was “the time is always right to do what is right.” The Rev. Alfred Woods, chapter vice president, said the reason the organization chose that topic was the “urgency of where we stand today.”
“When you’re looking at Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, New York City and all those different situations, we are saying to ourselves,’When is the right time to do what is right?'” Woods said. “The time is now.”
In Nelson’s sermon, based on Luke 24:34 and Titus 2:1, he asked the black community to seek forgiveness rather than revenge in light of recent incidents of police shooting unarmed black men.
“We as a black people cannot continue to harbor the convenient comfort of victimization, as my brothers and sisters of the white race cannot continue to carry the burden of guilt or hate or racist attitudes,” Nelson said.
Nelson added, “Quite frankly, both are reciprocal and shared by the other. And that’s what we, as God’s children, need to understand. We breathe the same air, we bleed the same blood, we even wear the same clothes. I know I did, because my neighbor handed them to me.”
He said the black community’s enemy “is only your enemy if you react with the hurt and pain that becomes bitter and angry over time.”
“Finding the capacity to love is redemptive,” Nelson said. “Jesus says forgive your enemies and love them, not with a brotherly love or a sisterly love, not with a social or sexual love, but a Godly love that requires of you more than you have of yourself.”
The black community needs to work together with local authorities to build better relations with the police, Nelson said.
“Our bloods are boiling, our minds are confused, we are at wit’s and road’s end because we see each other as the enemy,” Nelson said.
After relating an anecdote about how he worked with local law enforcement to end an armed standoff near his church, Nelson stressed the importance of building “mutual respect” between the police and leaders, particularly pastors, in the black community.
“We, in this group, can bridge the gap by reaching out our hand and they can bridge the gap by extending their hand and when we can live this world in community, now we can build an accord,” Nelson said.
Nelson said in June there will be an event in Middleburg where a former FBI official will preach about a program at the FBI academy “that sees cops … as men and women who have human needs.”
“Just like when a soldier went off to battle, we prayed and laid hands of well-being on them, encouraged them when they came back and helped them to realign their lives,” Nelson said.
Nelson continued, “We need to do the same thing with the police and the pastors of the community so the community can breathe, find peace and be joined together, mend the trust, bind up the wounds of discord and stop the killing.”
At the end of the sermon, Nelson rallied pastors and clergy members to become engaged with law enforcement.
“Pastors, preachers, servants of God, the calm call goes out to sit and do nothing, but if you do, you aid and abet the enemy of God’s people, whether it’s personal, governmental or any organization or church,” Nelson said.
After the program, Woods said he “feels the community and the nation are coming together not because of what has happened but because we are coming to the realization we exist as one.”
Woods said the relations between Warren and Page county law enforcement and the local black community is “very good.”
“I feel we have a good working relationship and there’s a bridge for us, but I feel its missing in a lot of areas of the nation,” Woods said.
Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org