WISE, Jan. 18 – Despite the winter weather, a crowd of students, faculty and area residents gathered to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Monday’s commemoration of King began with a community dinner at the First Church of God in downtown Wise. The crowd of approximately 150 people and all were excited and in high spirits as they enjoyed a classic southern meal including ham, fried chicken, sweet potato casserole, and collard greens.
This year’s celebration marked the twentieth anniversary of the event involving Wise and the college. The event is one of the largest observances in Southwest Virginia of King’s impact in American society. Following the dinner, the crowd lined up outside in the cold conditions for a march through downtown Wise to the First Baptist Church where the program was held.
The theme for this year’s celebration was “Wise Words of Dr. King,” and the committee picked quotes from Dr. King to serve as inspirations. In previous years, the committee had selected one keynote speaker to headline. In this year’s event, however, the committee asked seven leaders of the community, religious leaders, and students to speak at the event. Each speaker gave a brief speech in which they discussed one of the selected King quotes.
Mary Eubanks, the founder of the march at UVa-Wise, returned this year as a speaker at the event. During her remarks, Eubanks spoke of fond memories from years of being involved in the event that left some in the audience with laughs and tears. Others speakers included Wise Vice Mayor Teresa Adkins, Reverend Jim Collie of the First Baptist Church of Wise, UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry and college Chief of Staff Huda Aden.
Reverend Beth Tipton of the Wesley Foundation spoke on the words of King: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.”
Reverend Mike Winters of the Wise Baptist Church, Reverend Ronnie Hampton of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, Reverend Jimmy Mitchell of The Cave Church, Elder Carolyn Smith of the Macedonia Baptist Church, and Reverend Sandra Jones of Williams Chapel represented the area’s religious leaders. UVa-Wise student Jamie Dailey was slated to speak at the event, but was unable to attend due to illness.
There was also entertainment at the event, including music, reenactments of King’s speeches, and a mime ministry.
Debbie Vanover, who currently serves as chair of the committee for this event, spoke of its importance and impact on UVa-Wise and the community.
“This is such an important program for the college and the Community alike,” said Vanover. “It is a cultural event for the students and I would say the student body had about 30 people present. There is also a great outpouring from the community.”
Over the years, the event has received donations and help from countless organizations and businesses in the area, including the Wise Kiwanis Club, the Foster Grandparents Program, Food City, the town of Wise and police department, Flatwoods Job Corps, and several other groups.
“Even though progress has been made in the civil rights movement, we have so far to go.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.