By MADDY VITALE
The life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was celebrated Monday as the Ocean City community joined to remember the civil rights leader whose message of hope, faith and promise, despite bigotry, hatred and racism, still resonates today.
Rev. Marcia Stanford, a pastor at Macedonia United Methodist Communities and chaplain at The Shores Communities, gave a powerful keynote address.
In it, she spoke of what Dr. King’s message continues to mean to the nation.
She urged the audience at the Ocean City Music Pier to “take time to examine where we are now and where we have come from.”
“Dr. Martin Luther King went to the Promised Land with God. He saw what could be, and he was willing to fight, not with a gun, not with a knife, but with the word,” Stanford told the captivated crowd.
Video courtesy of Martin Fiedler, Just Right TV Productions and Ocean City.
Stanford said there is still much to be done to end hate and racism. The fight for justice continues.
“We as a nation can get to the Promised Land. We even made it to the White House, and we made it with dignity,” Stanford said. “But the battle isn’t over. The battle continues. We have to continue to unveil racism.”
Stanford said while there have been great strides against racism and hate, much more needs to be done.
She spoke of how one day, her hope is that people see each other in a different view.
“The fight goes on, it continues to be a battle, the Promised Land is the land where we really do see each other as brothers and sisters, that we see each other not through the lens of color or ethnicity, but through the heart,” Stanford said. “We see each other through the eyes of people who are looking for peace and want peace.”
Rev. Gregory Johnson, of Shiloh Baptist Church, recited Dr. King’s pivotal “I Have a Dream” speech from the stage.
But before Johnson gave his annual rendition of the speech, his voice resonated from the back of the Music Pier as he took the audience by surprise and walked from the back of the building while engaging the audience along the way.
He spoke of how he too sat at the back of the bus. He also said he worked in the cotton fields – but those were memories from long ago – he said. But even though they have come so far, there is still so much more to be done to end racism.
Among other highlights of the program were ceremonies for recipients of the Martin Luther King Community Services Awards, Ocean City historian and director of the U.S. Lifesaving Station John Loeper, and physician and former Ocean City Board of Education President Dr. Patrick Kane.
Mayor Jay Gillian introduced them, but first he noted their many contributions to the community.
He pointed out that Loeper’s “life has been dedicated to preserving our shared history in Ocean City.”
“When you go to the Fourth Street Lifesaving Station and see what this gentleman did, it is amazing,” Gillian said. “It is a testament to what John does and all of his crew.”
Loeper said he was humbled by the award, and even joked that when he got the phone call that he was one of the recipients he asked, “if they ran out of candidates.”
He offered advice to the crowd to learn your history, because that is the only true way to navigate the path to your future.
“I thank everybody for this award. It is greatly appreciated. I was excited when they called me about it,” Loeper said. “I am honored to have it. If you don’t know your history, you don’t know where you’re going.”
Gillian said Dr. Kane’s legacy on the Board of Education will be forever remembered. He served on the school board during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic “divided our community.”
Dr. Kane headed the COVID Committee, which teamed him and other medical experts to help the school district navigate the unprecedented time.
Dr. Kane said he was honored and humbled by the award. He noted that he wanted to volunteer his time on the school board to give back to the community.
During that time on the school board, he was able to use his knowledge as a physician and contacts in the medical field to assemble a COVID-19 Committee to help get through the pandemic and continue to keep the schools open.
“I knew I could serve as a link to bring that together,” he said of the committee.
Dr. Kane added that he wanted to thank the educators in the district for working with the COVID-19 Committee to make it a success.
“I thank them for support of the COVID Committee,” he added.
He said Monday was a day to honor the legacy of Dr. King and to try to live a better life.
Also during the ceremony, four students from the Ocean City Intermediate School read their award-winning essays about the impact Dr. King has had in all lives.
Prior to the students reading their selection, Intermediate School Principal Mike Mattina said a few words, “Teachers and students get excited to write awesome essays. We selected four students with amazing essays.”
Kendall Barnes, Sydney Halliday, Gabriel Meron and Sofia Wright were the winning students. Each of their essays highlighted how Dr. King and his leadership in the civil rights movement had on a community then and now.
Members of City Council, county and state dignitaries filled the stage. Among them were Assemblyman Antwan McClellan, of Ocean City, who presented proclamations to the award recipients and Congressman Jeff Van Drew.
Van Drew spoke of the importance of Dr. King’s message.
“Martin Luther King didn’t want us always to be separate, always fighting. He wanted us to come together,” Van Drew said. “He believed it was time as a country to show more love, show more faith and show more goodness.”
Ocean City Tabernacle Pastor Jay Reimer gave the welcome remarks. Singer Twana Brandon projected a powerful voice on the stage as she sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Michael Allegretto, aide to Mayor Gillian, served as emcee of the ceremony.
The event was followed by a complimentary soul food buffet luncheon in the Music Pier solarium.
Earlier in the day, volunteers were invited to join in a nationwide Day of Service in honor of Dr. King’s contributions. Residents participated in a citywide cleanup from 9 a.m. to noon.