WHEELING - People of different races and faiths will join in Wheeling next weekend to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to reflect upon the continuing dream of civil rights for all.
A variety of events are being organized by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, the Upper Ohio Valley Clergy Alliance, the YWCA Wheeling, Temple Shalom and Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The holiday weekend will begin with a religious service at Temple Shalom, where a Christian pastor will speak and members of his congregation will be invited to worship with the Jewish congregation. Meanwhile, an interfaith service held previously at traditionally African-American churches will take place, for the first time, at a church with a predominately white congregation.
Photos by Linda Comins
Making plans for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Wheeling are, seated from left, Allison O’Konski, city marketing director; Latisha Turner of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple; Dr. Helen Faso of Wheeling Jesuit University and Royann Johnston of the YWCA Wheeling; standing from left, the Rev. James O’Brien, S.J., of Wheeling Jesuit University, Patricia Jacobson of Artworks Around Town, Ron Scott Jr. of Wheeling Park High School, Terri Garrett of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission, the Rev. Marcia Allen of Laughlin Memorial Chapel and the Rev. Brandon A.A.J. Davis of Wayman AME Church.
The Rev. James O’Brien, S.J., holds a poster from the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance. The MLK Committee is planning similar events this year.
In addition to the religious aspects, the celebration of King's birthday will feature the annual march for civil rights, activities for children, the reading of student essays, music and the presentation of awards to individuals and organizations within the community. The victims of the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut will be remembered during one service.
Special attention will be given to two significant milestones: the 50th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the 50th anniversary of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission, said the Rev. James O'Brien, S.J., a member of the Jesuit community at Wheeling Jesuit University and a leader of the local MLK Committee.
The theme of the 2013 observance, O'Brien said, is "In this 50th-anniversary year of Dr. King's justly famous 'I Have a Dream' speech, is Wheeling. W.Va., still dreaming the dream?"
The MLK Committee plans to conclude its observance by asking community members and religious and civic leaders to reflect on their own dreams and to dream together for the future of the community.
O'Brien said they will focus on this thought: "To dream by oneself is merely to dream, but to dream with others - aah, that is the beginning of reality!"
Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner of Temple Shalom said that the Rev. Dr. Darrell W. Cummings, senior pastor of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple in Wheeling, and members of his church have been invited to join congregants of Temple Shalom for Shabbat services at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18. "The general community is welcome to join us," she added.
Cummings, who grew up in a predominately Jewish neighborhood of Cleveland, will speak at the service. Temple Shalom is located at 23 Bethany Pike in Wheeling.
"We look forward to honoring the memory of Dr. King, recalling those who fought for civil rights and hearing the inspirational words of Rev. Cummings' sermon," Jacowitz Chottiner said.
Echoing the message of the Creation story in Genesis, King once said, "Every man is somebody because he is a child of God."
The rabbi explained, "This principle is one of the core beliefs that led Jews to take an active part in the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, a former leader of the Reform Jewish Movement (of which Temple Shalom is affiliated), Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, marched with Dr. King in Selma Ala., carrying a Torah scroll.
"Another prominent lay leader of the Reform Movement, Kivie Kaplan, was a national president of the NAACP. In addition, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was drafted in the library of the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. - the hub of social justice for the Reform Movement.
"Also, many rabbis who marched with Dr. King were jailed and beaten because of the support and solidarity they offered their fellow Americans," she related.
Jacowitz Chottiner, who serves on the Wheeling Human Rights Commission, commented, "While I fully recognize that it was the African American community that suffered years of discrimination and inhumane treatment, in many ways, our two communities have a shared past, because of the large number of Jews who were actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement."
Cummings said he is honored to be the Sabbath speaker at Temple Shalom. He said he will speak on "the struggles of civil rights and Dr. Martin Luther King and the goodness of God."
The pastor commented, "It's a perfect time for these two groups to unite and celebrate where God has brought us from. We have not arrived, but we are further than we were before."
He observed, "Those of the Hebrew faith have been through somewhat similar challenges in their history. As far back as fleeing from Egypt, where they were slaves there, and they were discriminated against from time to time in our history and, of course, the Holocaust and discrimination there."
As a youth, Cummings said he was "blessed by God" when his family moved out a poor black neighborhood in Cleveland to a predominately Jewish neighborhood in Cleveland Heights. He attended Cleveland Heights High School, where Hebrew language studies were required and Jewish holidays were observed.
"The majority of my friends there were Jewish," he recalled. "We had a next-door neighbor who lived through the Holocaust ... She told about how they (the Nazis) broke her back. She and her husband had a beautiful love story. They were separated during the Holocaust. They found each other and were married over 60 years."
Cummings commented, "I feel that I was blessed to have not only (Jewish) friends my age, but friends older than me who told me of some of the struggles."
The annual community-wide march, sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, will take place at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20. Starting at Temple Shalom, participants will march on Bethany Pike, National Road and Washington Avenue. "A van will be available for those in the spirit of the march, but their legs aren't quite up to doing the march," O'Brien said.
The march will end at Wheeling Jesuit University, where a brief service will be held in the Chapel of Mary and Joseph at 2 p.m. A special luncheon, offered at a nominal cost, will be served in WJU's Benedum Room at 2:30 p.m.
The Upper Ohio Valley Clergy Alliance will sponsor a worship service, also open to the community, at First Presbyterian Church, 1308 Chapline St., Wheeling, at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20. The Rev. Jeremiah Jasper, pastor of Fourth Street United Methodist Church, Wheeling, will be the preacher.
The alliance has dropped "Black" from its name and has expanded its membership to include clergy of any race. Cummings, a longtime member of the group, said this year's service will be history making.
"This will be the first time in our history of hosting the Martin Luther King celebration that we will be hosting in a primarily Caucasian church," he said, adding, "Personally, I preach against being limited to one race. I don't believe the church should be a black church or a white church; it should just be the church."
He said organizers are excited that First Presbyterian is opening its doors for the service. The Rev. Robert Willits, minister of First Presbyterian, "was the first Caucasian pastor to join our alliance," Cummings said. "We've been excited about his membership. He has been very influential."
Willits said, "We are honored and excited to welcome the community. I'm glad that we're expanding the participation in the community and hope that lots of folks will come regardless of race, color or even creed. It's a Christian worship service, but we certainly welcome everyone."
In addition to celebrating King's legacy, Cummings said, "We are hoping at that history-making event to recognize the loss of the 26 lives in Sandy Hook. If Dr. King were alive, he would be making a statement on it, and bringing light to the need for the safety for all of our kids."
At the worship service, the clergy alliance will present awards to Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie and City Manager Bob Herron in appreciation for their efforts to have part of Stone Boulevard named in honor of King last summer. "We understand Wheeling is one of the first in the state to do that. We were excited about that," Cummings said.
Regarding the street designation, Cummings said, "It is our hpoe that everyone is in agreement now. It is a source of pride for our city and not only for the African American community but our community as a whole."
Meanwhile, the MLK Committee plans to honor the Upper Ohio Valley Clergy Alliance and the Wheeling Human Rights Commission during its celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 21.
The clergy alliance is being recognized for expanding its membership into the community, O'Brien said. The Human Rights Commission is being saluted for its work in securing the designation of Martin Luther King Drive and on the occasion of the commission's 50th anniversary of service, he said.
Coinciding with the King observance, Wayman AME Church of Wheeling is holding an inaugural celebration, featuring food, music and fellowship, at Troy Theater in Swint Hall on the Wheeling Jesuit campus from 8-11 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20.
The Rev. Brandon A.A.J. Davis, senior pastor of Wayman, said the event is being organized "to provide a social gathering in the community to celebrate President Barack Obama's second inauguration."
Tickets are being sold for the event, which is a fundraiser for Wayman Church, Davis said. To purchase tickets or for more information, call Terrie Stradwick, 304-243-2320, ext. 4.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the MLK Committee will sponsor a breakfast for local children at Laughlin Memorial Chapel, 18th Street, Wheeling, at 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 21. The chapel staff will provide activities related to the day and will serve lunch to the children.
The MLK Committee and the Upper Ohio Valley Clergy Alliance hope to organize Martin Luther King Jr. Day service projects for Wheeling Jesuit students and other volunteers.
Patricia Jacobson, a member of the MLK Committee, is organizing an art show for the day. She also is encouraging people to view the exhibition, "Growing Up in Black and White," that is on display this month at Artworks Around Town in Centre Market.
A Martin Luther King Jr. Day community celebration will be held in Wheeling Jesuit's Troy Theater at 3 p.m. Monday, Jan. 21.
Winners of the 20th annual Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest, sponsored by the YWCA Wheeling, will read their essays during the program. Ron Scott Jr., a member of the MLK Committee and a counselor at Wheeling Park High School, said Wheeling Park students will provide musical interludes.
Royann Johnston, cultural diversity community outreach program director of the YWCA, said the winners of the statewide Project on Racism essay contest are as follows:
Grades 1-4 - first place, Logan Frazier, Ritchie Elementary School, Wheeling; second, Birkely Richards, Nutter Fort Intermediate School; third, Brady Ellison, Bluefield Intermediate School.
Grades 5-8 - first, Ashley McCutcheon, St. Michael Parish School, Wheeling; second, Chloe Gittings, Bridge Street Middle School, Wheeling; third, Ashton Carroll, Triadelphia Middle School, Wheeling.
Grades 9-12 - first, Moujhuri Sau; second, Elena Akers; third, Austin Gage. All three winners are from Wheeling Park High School.