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More than 45 years have passed since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Monday night, the words of that speech were spoken again, this time by Gene Livers of Springfield as part of a celebration of King’s life and legacy at the River of Life Church.
Livers said being able to recite the words of that speech on the anniversary of King’s birth as part of the celebration was special to him.
“To me, it meant joining myself with the legacy. I’ve only been in Christ for four years, and my eyes have been opened to a lot of things, but I’ve always appreciated Martin Luther King and what he stood for, which was a peaceful walk,” Livers said. “He didn’t have any prejudice against anyone. Then to see how painful it was, what he went through, and now to be able to see Barack Obama, it’s truly touching. We’ve gotten to see a great thing, but as a people, I hope everybody can appreciate it. But I don’t believe you can truly appreciate it unless you have Christ. That’s what they had, and what King had.”
The celebration of King’s life was well connected to the coming inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama by Livers, and others at the event, including keynote speaker Rev. Robert L. Cottoner from Oak Grove Baptist Church in Madisonville, Ky.
As part of his speech, Cottoner read from the Holy Bible and referenced scripture from 2 Samuel 23:15-17, which spoke of David’s desire for water from the well at Bethlehem, and how three men broke through Philistine lines to bring him the water he desired.
“King gave his life, as the three men did to bring David back the water, and David looked at the blood they had shed in order for him to drink what his desire was. The connection is that President-elect Obama has got to be eternally grateful for heroes such as Rosa Parks, Dr. King, John Lewis and many others,” Cottoner said. “Barack Obama was not elected without the support of whites and Asians and other people, because many who were black had the idea that one day, there is a possibility. But we never thought it would come as soon as it has. It was the minds of whites, Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Christians, that saw something in Barack, even though he was a black man, that here can be a hero for all of us that can help bring us together and close that gulf and bring our nation as a whole to a point that it’s closer now.”
Cottoner said he feels that like King’s service, Obama’s election is progress for our nation. He recalled being a black student at an integrated school in the 1960s and counts himself fortunate that he did not suffer the experiences of some other blacks who went through integration.
“I was one of the first blacks to enter Madisonville High in Madisonville, Ky., and some of the experiences I’ve heard others talk about, for some unknown reason that only God knows, I didn’t have to go through,” he said. “I was a product of integration, and it brought me to a point that I learned respect for all people and to respect them for who they were. Tomorrow, when Barack raises his hand, as a retired army veteran I’m going to look at him and say there have been others who have given their lives. I was there in Vietnam, and I came back to my family, but so many others did not. Them giving their lives was not in vain.”
The election of our nation’s first African-American president will bring positive change to our nation, according to Cottoner, who said he feels race relations will continue to become stronger in America.
“When we look at the state of our nation now, our only hope is to become our brother’s keeper, and to realize that God has called all of us to a greater destiny than what we’ve allowed ourselves to think of, so when we look at the potential of what all of us can become, America is going to become a lot better,” Cottoner said. “Race relations in America is going to have an uprising, and pride within all Americans is going to soar. It’s just a good feeling to be an American. There’s no country like America, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”