Martin Luther King Day celebration fights hate with love, prayer, song

Last Updated by Kevin Woster on
The Faith Gospel Church of God in Christ Choir in Gospel song

Fighting hate with hate is a double negative that multiplies misery and makes hateful people more hateful.

Nobody understood that better than Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Hate cannot drive out hate," King famously said. "Only love can do that."

And there was plenty of love fighting hate Monday at the Martin Luther King Day celebration sponsored by the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ  here in Rapid City.

There were also some challenges, like the one event emcee, former Republican state Sen. Gordon Howie of rural Rapid City,  issued to the more than 100 people who gathered in a meeting room of the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn.

"You can be seated, if you can stand to be," he said. "But I doubt you will be for long."

As it turned out "long" was about 10 seconds after the Faith Temple Church of God In Christ Choir started challenging the acoustics of the meeting room with song. Movement and song, actually. And hand clapping. And the occasional "Amen!"

Soon people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds were on their feet -- on our feet, actually, because gray haired bloggers couldn't help but join in -- swaying to the songs and in some cases reaching toward the ceiling with eyes closed and hearts open. And it wouldn't be the last time.

Howie has a fondness for song, including the country style campaign ballad he produced -- singing and playing the guitar himself -- for one of his political campaigns. To be clear, he's no Mahalia Jackson. He's a white, conservative Christian from the most conservative part of South Dakota who helped found South Dakota's version of the Tea Party before making unsuccessful runs for governor in the Republican primary in 2010 and the U.S. Senate as an independent in 2014.

But he's also an active member of Faith Temple, and a man inspired by many of the same biblical imperatives that inspired King. And regardless of race and cultural roots, Howie couldn't keep his feet still and his hands quiet while the Gospel songs wailed. Few could.

But there was more than music at work during the hour-long celebration sponsored by Faith Gospel. As always, it focused on King's impact on the civil-rights movement and on the United States of America -- a nation based on unification that some argue is more divided now that it has been since King's time.

But hope collected itself in the meeting room as the choir sang and a succession of Christian ministers praised King and the Lord and called on those present to follow a Bible-based, peaceful, loving road in their civil-rights advocacy.

"It's easy to see what's wrong," said Pastor Brent Parker of Destiny Foursquare Church in Rapid City. "But Dr. King saw something beyond what was wrong. He saw what could be."

It was a dreamy vision of equality that seemed written deep in King's genetic code. And he believed it fervently, even when he knew his life was threatened and could well end at any time in violence.

"Doctor King was a dreamer. But he dreamed a dream in the valley of the shadow of death," Parker said.

The Rev. Chuck Loftis of the Open Bible Christian Center turned to the Book of Acts in a call for unity that transcends race.

"He said made from one blood, every nation of men," Loftis said. "We are one blood. Amen!"

Pastor Quincy Good Star brought a Lakota perspective to the spiritual nature of King's legacy, proclaiming that there is only true unity in diversity. But he said that means people have a responsibility to act with impact in their personal lives and communities, promoting unity and challenging bigotry wherever it's found.

Racism and bigotry have to be learned, he said. "But what is learned can be unlearned."

Untaught, too, perhaps.

The celebration also honored the memory of Bishop Lorenzo Kelly, the lead pastor and unrelenting force behind Faith Temple for three decades and key organizer of the Martin Luther King Day events each year. Kelly died in September but attendees said they felt his loving presence at the gathering.

No one felt it more than Chane Coomes, a white rancher from the Pine Ridge Reservation who was in a maximum-security unit of the Pennington County Jail on drug trafficking and related charges when Bishop Kelly found him through his jail ministry.

"He took interest in me, and began to chisel away at what I had become," Coomes said.

Even more than that chiseling, Coomes said, "He saw something in me and made me believe in myself."

Kelly spent his life helping others find a belief in themselves,  just as Martin Luther King did on a grand scale a half century and more ago. Pastor Greg Blanc of Calvary Chapel Community Church said that while few can have the impact that King had, all can have an impact.

"His speeches ignited a cultural revolution and still impact it," Blanc said. "Have you ever asked yourself: Am I living a life of impact?"

The impact of racism was clear to Twana Carr of Faith Temple, who grew up in Alabama in the 1970s and 1980s. But so was the hope and love left by King and other non-violent civil rights leaders. And it's a hope that Carr says she will not give up.

"By keeping the dream alive ..." she said. "I have hope for my sons, the next generation, that all of Dr. King's dreams will become a reality."

Which is something to celebrate each year, in love and song and rhythmic dance.

Good luck sitting through that.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of SDPB, Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting, or the State of South Dakota.