Trees Asheboro's MLK Tradition to Bear Fruit

By Robin Breedlove

Courtesy of the Courier-Tribune

ASHEBORO — Approximately 300 gathered at the Old Central Gym Monday morning to kick off a day-long celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Festivities included a breakfast, speeches, a march and tree plantings by youth and environmental group Trees Asheboro.

The Rev. John Gullett, known for his uncanny renderings of King’s speeches, was the featured speaker at the breakfast.

“This is a time of remembering sacrifices that have been made,” he said. “We understand the cost of freedom. And it’s earned us the right to be able to all come together. I believe his (King’s) dream is being fulfilled by the people who come together.”

The national theme was “Make it a day on, not a day off.” In that spirit, those attending started the day early with a Prayer Breakfast. The full buffet, prepared by volunteers led by Katie Snuggs, received rave reviews.

“I think it is great that so many people got up this morning to join us,” said Charissa Fair-May, president of the East Side Improvement Association that sponsored the morning’s events. “It’s a great way to celebrate this holiday and what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for.”

Brian Parker, a local business owner and coordinator, reminded the diverse group why they had gathered and encouraged them to take action.

“Take this day to make a positive difference in someone else’s life,” Parker said.

In a show of unity the crowd of varying skin tones, genders, economic backgrounds and ages stood to sing together, both the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice to Sing,” as well as the national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Gospel Gents from Mt. Gilead had the crowd clapping in unison. Their performance was followed by Mary Gullett who introduced her husband of 29 years. They met in college where they shared an interest in King and his passion for unity.

“He would recite Martin Luther King’s speeches to me on dates,” she recalled, laughing.

Mary Gullett noted that one of their three daughters is currently serving in the military stationed in Afghanistan.

“Out daughter is fighting a war for all of us — for unity,” she said. “It’s not about separation. It’s about togetherness.”

Before drawing the crowd in with his rendition of King’s speeches, the Rev. John Gullett offered his own words of wisdom. He observed many people do not know who they are and allow other people to decide that for them.

“Never let anyone draw your world. Because they may draw it too small,” he warned, noting that each person has an assignment on earth and should search for what that is. “Find the greatness that has been planted in you.”

Gullett then shared words from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches, starting with “I Have a Dream.”

One segment came from King’s last speech delivered in Memphis one day before his death. He recounted being stabbed in the chest and how close the blade came to striking a major artery that would have resulted in death. The newspapers reported the incident, quoting doctors who said if King had so much as sneezed he would have died. Reading of the close call, a white student sent King a letter.

“I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze,” she said.

Although the speeches were over 40 years old, the words still rang true to the crowd gathered in the Old Central Gym. They gave Gullett a standing ovation.

“I came out feeling inspired,” District Court Judge Rob Wilkins said. “Now we need to go forward and put it in practice with the goal to make it last everyday.”

“I think the program was incredible,” Michael Trogdon added. “It was very well organized and the spirit of the service was very encouraging.”

That spirit wasn’t lost on even the young. For one family, it was the 13-year-old son who prompted them to attend.

“When I got up this morning my son was getting ready to leave and I asked him where he was going and he told me, so I decided we would all come,” said Leroy Ellison, who along with his son, Tyre, came with his two younger children.

At the conclusion of the breakfast, a group took to the streets of the East Side community for a symbolic march. They walked, stopping to pray in several locations known for crime activity.

One prayer stop location was at Real Cuts, 801 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, the site of a homicide less than a month ago in which a man was fatally shot. Walkers gathered in a circle in the parking lot of the barbershop, owned by organizer Brian Parks, and prayed for an end to such violence.

Charles Ledwell makes the march an annual event because he feels it’s an important step in moving forward.

“We have to look back to where we came from or things will just go back down,” he said. “We’re stopping and praying at these places because we hope to stop the drugs and the killings in this neighborhood. There’s too many drugs and killings and we’re praying God will stop them.”

The march concluded back at the Old Central Gym where Minister David Leach gave closing remarks.

“My request to you is to continue this, watch our community grow. Keep holding hands with your brothers and sisters every day, not just on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Spread that love and spirit that I’ve witnessed here today every day.”