In the auditorium, a lone female voice soars above the choir. The audience, swept up by the Holy Spirit, sways and claps, and begs the choir to continue singing. "He has done great things for me," the choir sings, and the roused audience applauds.
With raised hands and shouts of "well" and "amen" from the crowd, local residents as well as members of the Fairfax County NAACP honored Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a service at First Baptist Church in Vienna. The service brought together members of various area churches, and exhorted the audience to strive for racial and economic equality in the midst of an economic downturn, as well as in the midst of recent discussions regarding the merits of affirmative action and a possible war with Iraq.
"May we have the courage of Dr. King as we continue to stand up for justice, reconciliation and truth, despite challenge and controversy," said a line from the litany of commemoration for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which was read at the program.
While the choir ministered to the audience, the speakers of the program encouraged listeners to be active in the community, as Martin Luther King was active in bringing about social justice through nonviolent means. Keynote speaker Rev. Leonard N. Smith of Mt. Zion Church in Arlington urged the audience against bitterness and complacency in the struggle towards racial equality. Whatever their heritage, people should be alarmed at racial profiling towards both African-Americans and Arab-Americans, Smith said.
"This is not just an invitation of people of color to look backward and forward..Regardless of our race, we are all collectively captured in our own [racial] struggles," Smith said. "Our progress of the people is the progress of the nation."
Smith continued, saying that having a memory of past struggles and glories can influence the future course of a people. By remembering the achievements as well as the pain, it proves to people that they can indeed overcome.
"The problem with us is that we are so preoccupied with our hurts, we have missed our true heritage" which begins in Africa. "...We achieved in slavery, we achieved in segregation, and today, we achieve in the silent segregation," Smith said.
Local leaders invited to the service also exhorted the audience to pursue goals of economic equality and peace. U.S. Representative Tom Davis (R-11) spoke, as well as Vienna mayor Jane Seeman, and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors members Kate Hanley and Cathy Hudgins.
"While we are surrounded by prospects of war, Dr. Martin Luther King reminds us of peace and love," Hanley said.
Hudgins said, "what will we do for Dr. King today? I think that's one of the basic and fundamental things we can take away from this holiday."
Indeed, the theme for the 18th annual service commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. was "Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On...Not a Day Off."
"Dr. Martin Luther King said, everybody can be great because everybody can serve," said Davis.