By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell, Special to

Monumental Baptist Church is where the Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles pastored for more than five decades. The church’s annual tributes to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became notable, hosting attendees eager to hear Kyles’ unique, eyewitness details of being on that balcony when shots rant out, killing Dr. King.

In late April 2016, Kyles died at 81. Three years out, hundreds gathered Monday at Monumental on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They heard inspiration-oriented faith leaders challenge them to seek “Hope and Restoration for a New Generation.”

Attendees at the MLK observance at Monumental Baptist Church also noted the contributions of the church’s former pastor, the late Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, who was on the Lorraine Motel balcony when Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

Dr. King, whose actual birthday was Jan. 15, would have been 90 this year.

Pastor Marcus Newsome of God’s Word Impact Ministries urged repentance and a return to Biblical principles and family values to incite hope in the next generation.

“First, we need to stop sending our children to church,” Newsome said. “We need to bring them to God ourselves. Caring mothers have become cougar mothers, trying to date their son’s peers so they can feel young again.

“Mothers aren’t on the Mother’s Board anymore, and Daddy is taking care of three different homes. God can turn around this generation, if we repent and return to Him.”

The widely popular Peace Makers from the Memphis Police Department and the Monumental Male Chorus were only two of the guests providing the gospel music backdrop.

The service’s only female speaker, the Rev. Cassandra Clariett, serving at Monumental, encouraged older generations to share real experiences with younger ones.

“When we reflect on our history and what Dr. King’s life and work meant, we can give our young people a sense of hope in the mountaintop experience,” said Clariett. “But grandmothers are 35 now and still club-hopping trying to find the one. Grandfathers, instead of teaching their grandsons to hunt and fish, they are ‘sagging’ harder than this new generation.

“Deuteronomy 30:2-3 says: ‘If you and your children return to the Lord, then He will restore our fortunes.’ And I don’t mean material things – stuff – I mean God will restore our peace, joy, and love. Our children need to know we have not been saved all our lives – that God has brought us.”

The celebration was hosted by Monumental, along with the Tennessee Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC).

“Dr. King was a member of the Progressive Convention,” said the Rev. Melvin D. Watkins, pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, and the denomination’s 2nd vice-president. “When Dr. King was rejected by the National Baptist Convention, he joined the Progressives. Everybody wasn’t glad to see Dr. King come here, and that’s just the way it was.

Civil rights and social justice were integral parts of the organization’s platform. King spoke at every annual convention until his death in 1968.

Host pastor, the Rev. Wade C. Bryant of Monumental, is also the denomination’s 1st vice-president. Dr. James Delaney of St. John Baptist Church is Progressive Convention president.