That was the message that brought the room to its feet at Tabernacle Baptist Church on Monday, rousing those gathered for the annual Emancipation Day Celebration.
The Rev. Da’Henri R. Thurmond of St. Paul C.M.E. Church in Savannah, Ga., the keynote speaker, called for “action, not apathy” to address society’s ills, especially the chronic problems of poverty and crime, which continue to plague the black community.
The event is a major fundraiser for the Augusta Lincoln League, which uses the proceeds to provide scholarships to local college students. The organization provided about 30 such scholarships in 2011, according to its president, the Rev. Larry Fryer.
Sunday marked the 149th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order that freed slaves in Confederate-held territories on Jan. 1, 1863.
Thurmond said the proclamation was an “important milestone in pursuit of liberty and justice for all people,” which should be remembered and commemorated by every passing generation.
“My brothers and sisters and I were required to attend this event every New Year’s Day,” said Thurmond, an Augusta native, who recalled that as a child, he wasn’t always eager to participate.
Today, however, he was glad his parents made him attend the annual commemoration, where he heard many inspiring speakers address the moral, social and political concerns of the day.
But memorializing an event that happened almost 150 years ago is a waste of time if the community doesn’t reflect and take action, he said. “God is not blind and God is not deaf, but what about us?”
Drawing upon the biblical story of Moses, Thurmond compared Moses being called by a God to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt to those in the congregation, whom he said were being called to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.
“The pharaohs of this world will never let the people go voluntarily,” he said. “God is calling us to move, to act, to do something.”
The Augusta Lincoln League also named its 2012 Citizen of the Year at Monday’s event, honoring Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett.
“I’ve always wanted to help others,” a tearful Lockett said. “But I never anticipated this.”