BUCKHANNON – More than 100 folks gathered at Jawbone Park Sunday as the community celebrated Black History Month with a reading of the 82 sentences comprising Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech.
Buckhannon Mayor David McCauley welcomed those in attendance and gave a history of the speech, saying originally, it was delivered by Dr. King on Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before more than 250,000 civil rights supporters.
“It has become known as one of the most defining moments of the Civil Rights Era,” McCauley said. “Dr. King originally designed his speech as an homage to Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address,’ timed to correspond with the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. For nearly 57 years, his speech has been recognized as one of the greatest oratorical events in world history.”
McCauley said the community gathered Sunday to “respectfully offer its own rendition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s thought-provoking words through 82 eclectic voices coming together in tribute to his rich legacy.”
Community members signed up and shared Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech line-by-line at the event.
Cierra Tolbert and members of the West Virginia Wesleyan College Gospel Choir sang two hymns and Dr. Robert Quarles, director of multi-cultural programs and services at West Virginia Wesleyan College, shared his thoughts during the invocation and benediction. He left those attending the event with a challenge.
“I came to West Virginia in Fall 2007 as a freshman at West Virginia Wesleyan College,” Quarles said. “We came to Walmart, and my mom asked where the black hair-care aisle was, and the woman told us, ‘There are no black people here.’”
Quarles said he wanted to go home the same day he arrived.
“I came back to work at WVWC because I saw the need and the potential that this community has in making better people,” Quarles said. “What I challenge you is, over Easter Dinner … when [a relative] says something [insensitive] or just doesn’t get it, correct her. I challenge you, when your coworker says something ridiculous, correct them.”
Quarles said the only way to address inequities is to bring light to the need and bring support to the entire community.
“That is how we change this community, that is how we change this world, that’s how we get attention to the oppressed,” Quarles said. “West Virginia is a state full of oppressed people. Let’s not be people that are pressing others.”
Maggie Trombley, a Buckhannon-Upshur High School senior, said she attended the Black History Month Celebration to support everyone in the community.
“It (the Civil Rights era and 1960s) wasn’t that long ago, and we need to keep this in the forefront of our minds,” Maggie said.
Her boyfriend Zachary Long was visiting from Ohio for Valentine’s Day and joined in on the Black History Month Celebration with Maggie and his grandmother, Susan Long, who is a retired fifth-grade teacher from Union Elementary School.
Zachary, who read one of the lines of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, said he joined the festivities to lend his support for Black History Month.
Quarles told those gathered to remember that Black History Month is everyone’s history.
“May the day come when these stories are so widely taught, that no month need be separated or divided,” Quarles said. “This will happen when our people make different choices.”
Daya Wright and Shauna Jones, members of the Buckhannon Diversity Appreciation Coalition, thanked those who gathered for Sunday’s celebration.
“When our Diversity Appreciation Committee gathered to plan today’s event, we figured each of us would need to recruit 10 or 11 community members,” Jones said. “People will join in on worthy causes if asked personally to do so.”
Jones said she believes Buckhannon is capable and willing to not only appreciate Dr. King’s dreams but collaborate to reach them.
McCauley said upcoming Diversity Appreciation month activities include Black Balloon Day on March 6 and the celebration of Women’s History Month, where they will specially honor Joyce Stockert and Mary Gibson.