By Charlotte Smith
The Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church hosted the annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, January 20, 2020 in their activities center. Dr. Frederica Renee Steele, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Elizabethtown Middle School and the 2019-2020 Bladen County Schools’ Teacher of the Year sounded the alarm and encouraged those in attendance to “Wake Up!” as the Guest Speaker of the Event.
Parish member, Susie Gooden Prevette welcomed those in attendance. Elder Michael Aycock read scripture and Mayor of Elizabethtown and Director of Music, Sylvia Campbell lead the hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”.
Paul R. Brown Academy Honor Guard presented the Colors and their choir lifted moods with Christian praise.
Amy Steele introduced Dr. Steele.
Dr. Steele was the President of the Student Government Association during her time at UNC Pembroke. She was also voted Homecoming Queen and the first ever African American Miss Pembroke, according to Amy. Dr. Steele serves at Bladen Community College, Bladen County Public Library Board of Directors and School Improvement Team. She is also the founder of Elizabethtown Middle School’s Girls with Pearls Program. Dr. Steele has been nominated for the 2020 Marvin R. Pittman Champions for Education Award.
After the introduction Dr. Steele gave a passionate plea to all in attendance with the resounding, continuing phrase to remember when honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, “Wake Up!
As she rang a bell and stated, “I believe this is what he would want us to hear,” she said, “That is an alarm. That is a wake up call!”
“We have gotten comfortable with the status quo,” Dr. Steele said.
Then she referenced Matthew 13:25 from the Bible and said, “While men slept the enemy sowed weeds among the wheat.”
She continued giving examples of how the nation has become comfortable. “We are raising a generation of students and children that have that fast food mentality, meaning they want to have it their way… it’s not about anybody else, but them.”
“We’ve got to Wake Up!,” Steele exclaimed, “We have much work to do.”
Re-segregation is happening in school systems under the umbrella of school of choice, the quality of education is still defined by the zip code and the quality and resources still go to the wealthier communities.
She explained, “When one in six kids think about suicide, it’s time to Wake Up!”
North Carolina is the 11th in the nation for childhood poverty, the pipeline to prison starts in pre-school, the majority of African American boys are in special education programs and are suspended at a higher rate than their counter parts, followed by African American girls, the norm is having public and school shootings, Steele pointed out.
“All this stuff continues to permeate in our society,” Steele stated after giving the list of issues plaguing the nation.
There is still inequities in pay with regards to gender and in race and two North Carolina counties are listed as losing the American Dream in a recent report by the Wall Street Journal, Steele explained.
“I have a problem with a coach making a six-figure income, but a professor making less than $60,000, what message does that say to our people,” Steele asked.
“When the state of our government is so divided and people think they can say, and do, and tweet whatever they want,” she added, “and the enemy would have you forget there is power when we are all united.”
She said, “I believe Dr. Martin Luther King would say, ‘Heed the Alarm’.
Becoming unified and realizing we cannot be distracted is the answer to seeking Dr. King’s message, Steele explained.
“We all play a part in fighting the injustices. We all have a common enemy, it is racism, sexism, injustices, inequality. We all have that common enemy,” Steele said with a raised hand circle the whole audience. “If we stand post and we do what we are supposed to do which is to be unified and not forget Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, not just one day, but every day.
Ending her speech she challenged everyone to choose a cause that they are passionate about and in alignment with Dr. Martin Luther King and fight it until it is eradicated.
She said, “Stand up, be vocal, don’t care what other people say! I do believe that is how we honor his legacy. Wake Up!”
Dr. Steele received a standing ovation. After the choir performed another song those in attendance gathered together, held hands and bowed in prayer.
The services was sponsored by the Bladen Presbyterian Parish. In addition to the Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church the Parish is comprised of Acme, Beth Car, Central, Clarkton, Mount Horeb, Second and White Plains Presbyterian Churches of Bladen and Columbus Counties.
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