Leaders opened and closed a series of Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations Sunday afternoon with the same urgent words: “We have work to do!”
Oklahoma City Councilman John Pettis who represents Ward 7 on the east side of the city said it early in the worship celebration held at St. John Missionary Baptist Church. He was encouraging all people in the city to become even more engaged in confronting problems and especially on the east side.
Garland Pruitt, president of the Oklahoma City branch of the NAACP used the same words in closing remarks at a celebration later at Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City.
“Dr. King died: shot down for standin’ up. Shot down for speakin’ up. Shot down for tryin’ to make a difference,” said Pruitt.
“He’s gone. We’re still here. We have work to do!”
The similar statements encouraging people to get involved were a thread that ran through most of what was said at the two celebrations.
Dr. Lee E. Cooper, pastor of Prospect Baptist Church in Oklahoma City and the preacher for the service at St. John went in-depth about the theme of getting to work.
He said, “when we get through celebrating and having church, we gotta put on some boots and get busy, yes, there is work that needs to be done.”
Citing the themes of the last election from the one who won the election and his supporters, Cooper said, “it’s racism.”
“And only demonic people can think that we’ve come so far that racism does not exist anymore in this great yet-to-be-United States of America,” he said.
He cautioned, “The desire of evil is to overwhelm you until you become apathetic and decide to sit down.”
He warned the congregation, “We’ve got a battle on our hands.”
To combat apathy, he pushed for using righteous anger at injustice to bring us to “use your advocacy, marching, sitting in, writing your congressman and showing up when you need to show up.
Toward the end of his sermon he asked, “What are you advocating?”
At Temple B’nai Israel, the type of event and the themes were different because of the different demographic.
The program of music and readings from King’s speeches emphasized King’s message for all people to live in peace together.
A broad spectrum of people filled the dining hall of Temple B’nai Israel for their 29th Annual Martin Luther King celebration.
As has been the case over the years, the Temple uses the Sunday evening before Martin Luther King Day to reach out to black people in Oklahoma City, and especially the NAACP as an organization.
Rabbi Vered Harris who is the rabbi for that congregation told Free Press that her congregants are “very proud” of that tradition.
She said it originally was started by the rabbi who preceded her at the Temple, Rabbi David Packman. She said that originally it was a dialog that he started with Roosevelt Milton who was at that time the president of the Oklahoma City branch of the NAACP.
Free Press talked with Latosha Lornes who attended both events for the day. We asked if these traditional events seemed different with the pending inauguration of Donald Trump to the presidency.
She said that she and some other black people she knows are not happy with Trump’s election. She believes that Trump is not concerned for what is going on beyond his own interests.
And she doesn’t believe that so far, he has been acting much like a president.
“He seems to be – in my opinion – acting like an eighth-grader and think that the things that he’s doing affects him and him only and doesn’t realize that it’s affecting the entire United States,” Lornes said.
She said that she is hearing “that people are not happy about the president-elect, and they are turning toward God.”
“Some people who have not been praying are praying now. And some of us who have been praying are praying harder now.”