Obama shares King’s glory

The New Unity Fellowship choir holds a Monday night rehearsal for Sunday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day event. Among those practicing are Essence, Sade and Jaylen Mobley.  - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
The New Unity Fellowship choir holds a Monday night rehearsal for Sunday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day event. Among those practicing are Essence, Sade and Jaylen Mobley.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

Sixty years ago, America was a harsh climate for black advancement. Jim Crow laws still reigned, relatively few African Americans could vote and nearly half the states continued to hold laws forbidding interracial marriages like that between the current president-elect’s parents.

One can’t imagine Barack Obama’s election without the actions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and milestones such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and King’s famous 1963 “I have a dream” speech.

For these reasons, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will actually encompass two celebrations in Oak Harbor.

“Even though the day is about Dr. King, we recognize that Obama is a part of this. King did dream. And now, in 2009, it has come to pass,” Pastor Fannie Dean of New Unity Fellowship said.

Following Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, Obama will be inaugurated the first African-American president on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

To honor the day, members of the New Unity Fellowship dubbed tomorrow’s celebration “Yes We Can,” a slogan in Obama’s campaign.

There will be songs from the church choir, including “Enter His Gate” and “We Shall Overcome,” speakers and refreshments.

“We’ll also have a few older African Americans give a speech. They’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Bishop Charles Boyles, Jr. said, referring to Obama’s presidency.

For some attendees, the event will be a time to reflect on the messages King imparted to Americans and what they mean today.

The year 2008 was a trying one for Pastor Dean, who experienced two separate cases involving racist vandals. In July, a hoodlum broke the church’s thrift store window and Dean received threatening notes from someone purporting to represent the Ku Klux Klan. Three months later, the window was broken again, and this time a statue of an African American was decapitated.

“Sometimes I put myself in the mindset of Dr. King and how he didn’t let things move him. I think about my situation, and know that I can’t let things move me either,” Dean said.

The Oak Harbor community’s celebration for King began in 1986, originating with the Oak Harbor Black Citizens Association. In recent times, the New Unity Fellowship took charge, also sponsoring events for Black History Month and Juneteenth. Friday, the choir honored Dr. King at the Navy base, with more young singers than ever, Boyles said.

“I think the youth are very excited about Obama. Just like Dr. King, he appeals to a lot of people,” he said.

Donations made at Sunday’s celebration will go toward scholarships for minority students at Oak Harbor High School. The event begins Jan. 18 at 3:30 p.m. in the House of Prayer, across from U-Haul Rentals on Goldie Road.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day officially falls on Jan. 19, or the third Monday of January each year. A leading civil rights pioneer, King was assassinated in 1968. Congress proclaimed a national holiday in his honor in 1986.

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