Thousands poured into Baltimore’s New Psalmist Baptist Church to celebrate the legacies of both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Hussein Obama on the evening of Jan. 15.
Led by Bishop Walters S. Thomas, Sr., the ceremony honored Dr. King’s push for human and civil rights through dramatic performance, stunning arrangements from the New Psalmist Baptist Church Choir, and words from Congressman Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland’s seventh congressional district.
Cummings’ opened his remarks with a strong reminder to live out Kings’ dream of all humans showing compassion, concern, and care regardless of skin color.
“I drop a tear because of the things that Martin Luther King taught us. You do not judge a person by the color of their skin. You judge them by the content of their character- that’s what King talked about! That’s what he preached,” said Cummings, who’s speech riled the crowd even after it was announced that President Obama would not be in attendance as some had hoped.
Cummings spoke of the hard times that the African Americans have faced since King’s death in 1968, saying, “There have been times where we fell down- but we got back up.” He also commended President Obama’s calm, cool, and collected nature during his presidency in the face of visceral hatred and “maximum opposition.”
“It was mean, it was mean spirited, but “No Drama, Obama!” said Cummings, bringing laughs with the catchy moniker. “As we step into this new arena…don’t be scared. We’ve come this far by faith and now we have to run on and see what the end is going to be.”
Audience members were brought to their feet by Bishop Thomas’ sermon, which also praised King for laying down the bricks needed for President Barack Obama’s path to the White House.
“We didn’t see being able to vote. We didn’t see being able to live where we wanted to live. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was supposed to last one day. One 24-hour period span was all it was supposed to last,” Thomas said.
Thomas applauded the works of King, who was once just a “26-year-old preacher” with the ability to see victory even as others were doubtful- much like President Barack Obama.
“I was one of those in the early days that said ‘I don’t see this,’ said Thomas, recalling his misgivings about the presidential campaign of a “little lanky, skinny dude from Illinois who won the senatorial race on a fluke.”
“He saw victory and sometimes you have to believe in yourself when nobody else around you sees it. You have to be willing to overcome paranoid pessimists and say ‘You don’t see it- but I believe it!’”
Ten-year-old Antonio Clayhardy told the AFRO that seeing an African-American president leading the country for most of his life inspires him to “become one of those presidents that helps this country along the way.”
“It’s very sad,” Clayhardy said. “I feel like he was a good president. I feel like he’s accomplished a lot of things since he was elected president. It’s really sad to see him go.
Clayhardy’s sentiments were shared by other crowd members like 73-year-old Clarice Bryant, who said she considered the election of a Black American president “a miracle.”
“It was something that I thought would never happen,” said Bryant. “What it said to me is that no matter what we feel or what we think there is a way for everything.”