MARIETTA — Hundreds of people, including more than a dozen elected officials, attended Turner Chapel AME Church Monday morning for Cobb’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration where the church’s reverend blistered President Donald Trump.
“As we celebrate and honor the life, service and legacy of Dr. King, let us not forget the struggle for justice, equality and respect for all people is not over,” said Rev. Tar-U-Way Bright, Turner Chapel’s executive pastor.
Referring to alleged remarks made by Trump during Thursday’s closed-door immigration discussion as “hateful, shameful, racist and dehumanizing,” Bright called on those in attendance to collectively raise their voices and speak out, saying “This is wrong and does not represent America.”
Trump allegedly made a vulgar remark when referring to Haiti and African nations during the Oval Office meeting, a remark the president has since denied.
The pastor’s comments drew cheers and applause from the crowd as Bright, who is from Liberia, recited the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty. Bright said America still has a ways to go toward equality.
“I stand today the active pastor of Turner Chapel and a very proud immigrant from Africa,” he said, as the applause grew even louder.
The reverend said he loves this country and that he has poured 100 percent of his efforts into making it better over the years, just as much as “any other immigrant from Norway or anywhere else in this world.”
The Trump administration was mentioned by several other speakers over the course of Monday’s event, speakers who acknowledged that while America has come a long way since King’s assassination 50 years ago, America has not quite reached the mountaintop he spoke of.
Among those in attendance was county Chairman Mike Boyce and Powder Springs Mayor Al Thurman, both of whom declined to comment on Bright’s remarks about Trump. U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, who spoke during the event, left before it concluded and could not be reached by press time.
WE SHALL OVERCOME
The mood among the hundreds who lined the church’s pews Monday was jubilant as King’s life was celebrated on what would have been his 89th birthday.
The annual event, hosted by the county government and Cobb’s chapter of the NAACP, included performances by members of Cobb’s younger generation who sang, danced, recited spoken word poetry and delivered some of King’s most powerful speeches.
Among those who spoke of King’s legacy were Thurman, the county’s first black mayor, and Maryline Blackburn, the first African American elected to the Smyrna City Council.
“The wells of freedom that you and I enjoy were not dug by us,” Thurman told the crowd, reminding them of the sacrifices made by King and other civil rights activists who paved the way toward equality.
After the celebration, Thurman said King’s dream was still being realized.
“I still believe that we’re climbing the mountain,” he said. “(King) may have seen the Promised Land, but we’re not there yet. We still have a ways to go.”
Those in attendance weighed in on King’s impact following the event.
Acworth resident Fatima White, who arrived early enough to catch a front row seat, credited King with laying the foundation for social justice and equality in America.
“He’s the reason we’re here today,” said White, whose 15-year-old son Jaden received a standing ovation following a saxophone performance. “We have to continue that prophecy and that legacy. If it wasn’t for him, most of the kids in this performance would not be here.”
Looking around, she remarked at the diversity of those in the church, which included black and white people singing and praying together. White said the South would have been hard-pressed to see something like that 55 or 60 years ago.
Paul White, Jaden’s father, said without King’s vision, today’s world would look pretty dim.
“I have the freedom to walk the streets and go into any store I want to, any restaurant I want to,” said White, an Army veteran from Antigua. “If you look at what was happening in the civil rights era, we had people getting hung — people getting killed. It was just bleak. The work they did for us today, there’s just no value you could put on it.”
LIVING THE DREAM
The NAACP also presented its annual “Living the Dream” awards to south Cobb community leader Monica Delancy and former Cobb Chamber of Commerce CEO David Connell.
Delancy was not there to receive her award, but Jeriene Grimes, Cobb’s NAACP vice president, called Connell a visionary, a friend and a mentor.
“His work has helped our local businesses and communities become more inclusive and diverse,” she said.
Instead of giving an acceptance speech, Connell used his time at the podium to praise longtime Cobb NAACP president Deane Bonner for bridging racial divides in the county for decades.
“She has been a mentor of mine for over 20 years and has impacted so many lives in this community,” he said. “We probably wouldn’t be in this auditorium today if it were not for her.”