Rather than focus on the past, the celebrants looked to the present. Dozens of community leaders and clergy from across Fairfax County spoke at Vienna’s First Baptist Church during a commemoration of the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 17.
While the speakers each took turns recognizing the visionary that King was, they were most concerned about how to honor him through works in the present day.
“The more difficult approach is to get involved,” said Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill). Hudgins pointed out discrepancies and problems that minorities have at the local and national level.
Fairfax County schools are consistently high performers, she said. However, “minority students are disproportionately excluded from this success,” she said, before asking the crowd of several hundred to stand with the Board of Supervisors to work to correct that wrong.
“The Patriot Act represents Jim Crow revisited, with a different target population,” Hudgins said. She then became the first of several speakers to cite one of King’s maxims: “Dr. King reminds us that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
"HE DARED to dream not to see America as it was, but as it ought to be,” said the Rev. Dr. Kenny Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church of Vienna. Smith’s keynote speech brought the crowd to its feet. He first gave a list of different areas where blacks still face discrimination, such as the courts, the schools, hospitals and the awarding of government contracts. “As a black man, all I ask is that you give me a level playing field,” Smith said. “Allow me in the pool, and I’ll swim for myself.”
“Race does matter in America. On Jan. 17, 2005, race still matters. The dream, I say, is yet deferred, but it shall not be denied,” Smith said.
Citing King’s pacifism, Smith railed against the current war. “We will live to regret going into Iraq,” Smith said. “We must stand in solidarity against an unprovoked war.”
Like Hudgins, he also spoke against the Patriot Act and against the federal government’s detaining people without trial or even being charged. “When they finish locking up all those other people, they’re going to come get us,” Smith said. “The most dangerous and insidious part of these acts is they are being touted as acts of God.”
Within the wide-ranging speech, Smith also called for a society that recognizes that individuals are of different races. “We must dare to enter into a serious dialogue about race relations,” Smith said.
He said that rather than strive for a “color-blind” society, people should work toward a “colorful” society. A society where “we embrace differences and similarities and celebrate both,” Smith said.