Martin Luther King Jr. honored in Augusta ceremonies

The Rev. Larry Fryer peppered his sermon with a plea to the people.

In Augusta, decades after Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life for justice, peace is far from a reality. However, the problem isn’t always black and white.

At the pulpit in front of roughly 300 people settled in the pews, Fryer held up the The Augusta Chronicle’s Sunday Metro page. On one side was an article and photo of the Augusta Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s 2012 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and next to it was the headline for another article, “Daytime shooting kills man.”

The ironic juxtaposition showed a brokenness in the community that goes against all King wanted for the future, Fryer said.

“That tells me we have some serious problems,” Fryer said. “We are turning our back on the dream.”

He talked about the hungry, the suffering, the teen mothers, the violent youth and asked the community to reach out. Celebrating the life and legacy of King should not be reserved for one day, Fryer said, but should be realized by helping people all year.

“I’m happy to see you here, but what are you going to do tomorrow?” Fryer asked. “We’ve got to get out of our comfort zones and go in these communities to help these people. They need you.”

He led the 21st annual Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at First Baptist Church of Augusta on Monday. This year was the first time his group incorporated various faiths and churches for a citywide ceremony.

He said the collaboration was necessary, especially because of the racial divide that still exists in the city.

“Something that is keeping us divided is distrust,” Fryer said. “Whites are afraid of blacks, and blacks don’t trust whites.”

For many in the audience, the event was a way to show respect for a legacy that has touched all lives in the U.S. regardless of race.

As she left Fryer’s service, Lisa Tillman, a member of Usher Union of Georgia, said she hoped people would carry the spirit of King’s holiday through the year.

“You don’t even have to know the person,” she said. “He gave so much for us, he gave his life, and we need to honor that by helping people, too.”

On Monday evening, the Augusta NAACP’s 38th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Fund Banquet was held at the DoubleTree Hotel. The theme was “Affirming America’s Promise.”

“We are here to enlighten, encourage and keep Dr. King’s flame burning,” said Dr. Charles J. Smith, the branch president.

The banquet’s keynote speaker was Alethea R. Bonella, the former Southeast region field director for the NAACP.

“I am most excited about the community coming together like this,” she said. “To commemorate and celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King.”

Bonella hoped to encourage the community to get involved. She said there is divisive and negative talk now thanks to economic issues, and she hoped to remind the community of King’s legacy.

“We have no one else but ourselves,” she said. “We have to come together and step across those color lines.”

Jacqueline Fason was 9 years old when King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. She remembers coming home to her mother in tears and the sadness in her Augusta home.

“I feel if I don’t -- or we don’t -- celebrate today, then all of his work and efforts would be in vain,” Fason said.

Staff Writer Summer Moore contributed to this article.

AWARDS

In honor of people in Augusta who carry out Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, the Martin Luther King Memorial CSRA Observance Committee presented awards at the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

For his civil rights work, James Kendrick was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Lifetime Legacy Award for his efforts in promoting racial harmony in the city.

Four judges — State Court Judge John Flythe, Superior Court judges Carl Brown and Michael Annis, and Chief Magistrate William Jennings — the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta and Richmond County School Superintendent Frank Roberson were also recognized with drum major of justice awards. A representative received the award on Roberson’s behalf.

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