“Martin Luther King Day means overcoming obstacles,” says the Rev. Mr. Keith Parham, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hockley, in King and Queen County. Parham was one of the guest speakers at Rappahannock Community College’s tribute to Martin Luther King on January 20.
Parham grew up in Petersburg at a time when Virginia was segregated, and as a young adult, he was involved in the civil rights movement. When he was 16 years old, the president of the Petersburg NAACP’s (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Youth Division invited him to a meeting which Dr. King also attended. “I don’t remember a thing that he said,” Parham acknowledged; but, quoting Maya Angelou’s observation, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” he named three things he remembered about the occasion.
First, though King was known around the world and had met presidents and kings, he was a humble man. “He didn’t make people feel small,” reports Parham. “I remember thinking that I wanted to be like that. Not putting on airs — just being myself.”
“He was a very serious man,” continued Parham. “He spoke with conviction, with passion — his words came from his gut.” One of King’s well-known quotations, said Parham, sums up his attitude: “If you haven’t found something worth dying for, you aren’t fit to be living.” “The young people in this audience,” he stated, “need to find something that can further the rights of humanity.”
Even after King left the meeting, “I felt like he was still in the room,” said Parham. “He left me with precious nuggets of wisdom that were blessings to me; thus, I was inspired to go out and collect nuggets of my own that I have tried to pass along. That was a gift he left for all of us, to go out and make a difference by sharing your nuggets of wisdom. What nuggets are you going to leave with someone?” he asked the audience.
Parham concluded by saying, “Dr. King was a ‘lifter,’ and so must we be. Every one of us can be a Dr. King!”
In addition to Parham’s talk, Cecil Taylor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Reedville — a speaker who is sought out by many local community organizations for his inspiring presentations — gave an electrifying rendition of a 10-minute segment from the “I Have a Dream” speech (first heard on August 28, 1963). “He walked to the podium and transformed himself into Martin Luther King,” marveled one audience member, after hearing Taylor’s accurate replication of King’s voice and intonation.
Attendees were welcomed by Lorraine Justice, administrative officer for the federal TRIO programs at RCC. The event was sponsored by RCC’s Library and its Student Support Services Office.