Sunday, January 19, 2003
Annual King observance continues bid for equality
By Jenni Phomsithi
For The Courier
A community gathered in the Hughes Center Saturday morning and observed a moment of silence in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
But after the brief silence, the mood quickly turned to celebration.
The River Valley Progressive Men’s Club sponsored its 15th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration Saturday, built around the theme of “Equality: The Continuing Struggle.”
The club is a non-profit organization with a stronghold at New Prospect Baptist Church but stretching across Pope and into Yell counties. The club is a fellowship of 19 men currently that promotes fund-raising, scholarships and supports local youth.
Rev. Jerry Linten of New Prospect Baptist Church provided the invocation, saying of King, “It didn’t matter what race, creed or color you [were], he was about love.”
Tyrone Williamson and Rick Colclough served as masters of ceremony, introducing an array of performers, including John Cotton. Cotton is a member of the Baha’i faith — a faith that encourages oneness among mankind. Cotton played guitar and sang two songs in honor of King’s birthday. He was followed by the much anticipated Sisters of Praise stepping act.
In introducing the main speaker, Vandell Bland, Colclough said of King, “He had a legacy and passed the torch on.” Colclough noted that each generation needs to remember that and continue passing their torches.
Bland is an ordained minister and attorney with two private practices — but he wasn’t always. Bland spoke of change on Saturday, and he used his life as an example.
In 1984, Bland was an ordained minister who “got discouraged in the church.” He said, “Before that I had been out on the street smoking dope and drinking.” And that’s what Bland went back to.
Discouragement led Bland to hang out with his old friends — who were now using a new drug. Cocaine controlled Bland’s life for the next four years. Bland said he “got to snorting that powder. VCR went missing. TV went missing. I went missing.”
His wife didn’t trust him anymore, and he joked that she made him sit outside the home on the steps when she wasn’t home.
On January 31, 1988, Bland saw a man dropkick his son. They were in a dopehouse. Bland said he knew then this wasn’t how he was supposed to be living: “In a dirty place watching dirty folks do dirty things to themselves.”
Bland said, “God took me out of the dopehouse.” He went back to his family and to school. Bland graduated from UALR in May 1989.
Bland then applied to law school, and he got turned away because of his past. He wanted to walk back to the dopehouse, but instead he walked to UALR School of Law admissions office and talked his way into a spot in the class and a scholarship.
Bland has been married to the same woman for 23 years and has two adult sons. He hasn’t touched cocaine in 14 years.
In closing, Bland said, “Wherever you are, you be proud of where you are.”
The afternoon got underway with a skit, followed by a teen summit event. A panel of six teens led the audience in a sometimes heated but always informative discussion on equality. The discussion included thoughts on everything from affirmative action to fairness in high school athletics and was led by Lameria Colclough and Lenard Blocker of the New Prospect Bible Church.
To wind down the day, more entertainment was on the schedule. BASICs, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, stirred the audience with a stepping routine. More songs followed, and the club’s president, Andy Hatley delivered final words.
Willie Braxton, event chairman, said the event was successful, despite a decrease in attendees this year. Although more than 500 people have attended in recent years past, Braxton said attendance was probably down near 20 percent this year, and he cited weather as a probable cause.
The River Valley Progressive Men’s Club raises money throughout the year to sponsor this event — an event it begins its yearly calendar by, according to club bylaws. The club participates in PickleFest, Yell Fest and holds an Autumn Ball in November of each year. Donations also help fund the event, and Kroger and Tyson both contributed in the way of food this year.
The nation will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.
©Copyright 2003, The Courier (AR, USA)
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