“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
That was the message North Carolina NAACP Field Organizer Yara Allen shared during the 24th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day luncheon on Monday afternoon. “I am using that, along with your theme [Renewed Commitment for Justice in 2014] — I want you to stand up and say something.”
The luncheon, organized by the NAACP, Surry County Chapter 5459, including Mistress of Ceremony Vera Reynolds, and Hostesses Mary Nell Hatcher and Adron Martin, was held at the historic J.J. Jones Alumni Auditorium. Also joining the group were NAACP Branch President Faye Carter, who told the crowd to keep their eyes and ears open for a Surry County Moral Monday gathering, which she said may take place in March.
An opening song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was presented by Marie Nicholson, with an invocation by Pastor Billie King, a welcome from Commissioner Cordie Armstrong, a proclamation from Mayor Deborah Cochran read by Anice Hickman, and prayers given by Rev. Thomas Williams Jr. and Pastor Cathy Dobson.
The audience also enjoyed a praise dance from G.E.M.S. Praise team from Clarks Creek Church, including Dana Brown, Corey Valentine, Braxton Easter, and Praise Team Director Tanya Hughes.
Lunch was prepared by Golden Corral of Mount Airy.
Also in attendance were Ric Marshall, Mayor Earl Sheppard from Pilot Mountain, Town Manager Homer Dearmin, Pilot Mountain Commissioner Dwight Atkins, Register of Deeds Becky Carolyn Comer, Clerk of Court Becky Brintle, Food Lion Manager and Pilot Mountain Commissioner Cordie Armstrong, and N.C. House of Representatives District 90 candidate John Worth Wiles. Also joining the crowd were many citizens from around the county, as well as managers and employees of Food Lion, who filled almost an entire table in the room. Carter said that she wanted to recognize all of the Food Lion employees, who she said were “always willing to support in any way” and added that Armstrong had been named Food Lion Manager of the Year for 2014.
Keynote speaker energizes the crowd
Keynote speaker Yara Allen asked the crowd to think about what really matters to them, and said that in a poll they would get a wide variety of answers, “from family to religion, marriage, economic stability, freedom,” and added that “at some point the answers will become repetitive,” but assured everyone that just means “we all have certain things in common and this is just the beginning of what defines us as a community.”
“We have declared certain things valuable and worth fighting for…Dr. King left these and other nuggets of truth at a time when the South was draped in the gaudy garment of bigotry and hatred.”
The crowd was continually energized by Allen’s words, responding with praise and rounds of applause, as she asked those in the room to renew their call for justice and truth. She spoke of recent state legislation that she said could not be ignored, and asked the crowd to stand up for those whose rights were being denied —the hungry, the poor, the unemployed, educators, students, elderly, workers, children, immigrants, LGBT, and more.
She continued by saying that right now in North Carolina, citizens are fighting to regain their rights that have been “infringed upon by extreme legislation,” with a “General Assembly that has been run amok by extremists, taking North Carolina back to the days of Jim Crow.”
Allen, along with 48 others she called “soldiers for justice,” were arrested at the North Carolina General Assembly on May 13 as part of a Moral Monday gathering, and she added that she was “proud to stand up” and fight for what she knows is right, and invited everyone in the room to do the same, and use the courage of those who fought the fight in the past as examples and inspirations.
“Jim Crow was not just a set of laws, it was a way of life…oppressed people hoped for a better day and prayed for a better day, but only when they realized how much what they held dear really mattered, they decided to stand up and say something. They challenged a system that only knew one word — denied. They were no longer satisfied with the by-and-by-when-I-die, pie in the sky theory. They were sick of being second class citizens and having rights denied…they understood that to hold on to dignity, they had to stand up and say something.”
By calling up the memories of those who fought for freedom, Allen said everyone could take those examples as well as the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and move forward: “If we are to truly honor the life and legacy of Dr. King, we must honor him by deciding to stand up and speak up for those things that matter today, what we are not willing to be silent about, what we can no longer tolerate. Our lives end the day become silent about the things that matter.”
Allen said that silence is not always golden, because it is “sometimes just complacency…fear and reluctancy,” and said if everyone was silent there would be no way to make positive change, which she said is needed in Raleigh right now. She also told the crowd that North Carolina has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation.
Along with unemployment problems, Allen said education in the state was going downhill, as money was “extracted from public schools to fund private and the state is the last in the nation for per pupil spending,” as well as tax increases for the “working poor” paired with tax cuts for the wealthy, which created an atmosphere in the state where “predatory payday lenders are coming back in droves.” In addition, she cited other issues like cuts to medicaid, cuts to the pre-k programs, voter suppression, and the death penalty being reinstated, as examples of how “North Carolina is going backwards, not forwards.”
“These are the consequences of not speaking out against injustice.” Allen asked: “I ask you Surry County, does it matter? What would Martin do?”
The problem is not simply “Republican versus Democrat,” Allen shared, and it’s not “black versus white” either — “it’s clearly and simply a matter of right versus wrong.”
Allen shared with the crowd a phrase she said she borrowed from her mother: “If we have an ounce of ‘do-right’ in us, then it’s time to recommit ourselves to justice…stand up, suit up, step up, and speak up.”
An invitation was extended to anyone who wanted to join Allen, the NAACP, and local citizens who will travel to Raleigh on Feb. 8 for a Moral Monday gathering: “All roads lead to Raleigh as we raise our collective voice. We matter and we won’t be silent any longer.”
Allen assured the crowd they “are not operating from a hateful place,” and said it was because of love that they fight for justice “with every ounce of strength,” and “because of love” they seek a “better way.”
“Let us step aside and let justice roll down like waters.”
Most importantly, Allen said, was to “keep moving forward” —“If you can’t fly, run. If you cant’ run, walk. If you can’t walk, get down on your knees and crawl, but by all means, keep moving forward together, not one step back.”
“You’ve been empowered today. Take it and run.”