Today was the 51st annual service commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. at his home congregation in Atlanta. Jan. 15 was the 90th anniversary of his birth.
And as was made clear, in this church, the legacy of the civil rights leader and one of Atlanta’s most famous residents is alive and relevant.
Giana Davis, an Atlanta native has come to the commemorative service many times at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Her parents were a part of the civil rights movement. But she doesn’t come just to hear about the past.
“With everything going on in the world, I needed to be here,” she said.”Today is important. It’s not just a day off of work, but it’s time to really reflect”
She said every year on this holiday she focuses back on what’s important in life, inspired by King.
“Thank God we had at least him, where I don’t think he will ever die,” she said. “Even if nobody else comes to replace him, we always can come back to Dr. King. And as an Atlanta native that’s something I hold onto and it’s why I’m here today.”
While King died in 1968, the service doesn’t focus on his biography. Instead, it focuses on the values King upheld, like unity, and applying them to the present day.
King’s daughter, Bernice King, CEO of the King Center didn’t pull any punches: “We can try to build a wall to physically separate ourselves from others, but walls do not negate our interconnectedness,” she said.
She hit on another news headline too. “And when a government shutdown persists to the point that it affects the livelihood of individuals and those in dire need of critical social services, this is a humanitarian crisis and we are all in a state of emergency.”
Other speakers included different faith leaders, Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath; Emma Gonzalez, the gun rights activist from Parkland, Florida; and Sen. David Perdue.
Perdue is known for his close association with the president, but his remarks about King steered clear of politics.
“Though we may talk differently, look different and have different political views, [King] would remind us we are at first and last, one nation, under God,” Perdue said.
It was the same point that Bernice King emphasized: “Brothers and sisters: it’s time to stop merely praising King with platitudes and pleasantries. Now is the time to start embracing his vision of humanity tied in a single garment of destiny and to start living our best life by repping the authentic King.”
Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer put it a different way, with a metaphor about birds.
“Geese fly together,” he said. “Some are on the left and others are on the right, but they don’t decide to stop flying and shut the whole geese government down.”
That shutdown hit this corner of Atlanta, too. King’s Birth Home and the original Ebenezer Baptist Church nearby are operated by the National Park Service. If not for a last-minute donation from the Delta Foundation, they would have been closed today.
Bernice King called on people to step up and act for themselves, and not just rely on someone like her father.
“If we’re going to stabilize and strengthen our nation and world, then we can no longer wait on another Martin Luther King, Jr,” she said. “It’s time for you to be a King.”