Saturday’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration was a time for music, dance and reflection.

Held at the Byrnes Auditorium on Madisonville Community College’s Health Campus, the event kicked off a weekend of remembering King and his legacy.

“We’re certainly glad that you have joined us as we assemble on this occasion to not just remember the dreamer, but more importantly, to reflect on the vision for a better society,” said Tim Thomas, the event organizer and president of the Community Improvement Foundation.

Now in its 38th year, the celebration brought together community, church and educational leaders.

“It’s a way of bridging the divide as well as bringing people from all ethnic groups together so we can have a better understanding, a more concise understanding of what we’re all about,” said the Rev. Robert Cottoner, who gave the Saturday’s invocation. “It’s not about one individual, it’s about all of us, collectively. If we put our resources, our minds and hearts together, we can make this one of the better communities in the state of Kentucky.”

During the celebration, Evelyn Nicholson, the 2018 recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Educator of the Year Award, presented the 2020 award to Veronica Sharber Buckner.

Buckner teaches special education at Hopkins County Central High School and has taught in the school system for the last 27 years, said Nicholson.

“Her previous activities include being appointed by Gov. Paul Patton to the Kentucky State Advisory Panel for Exceptional Children — where she served two consecutive terms. She was elected and served as the first African-American to chair the state advisory panel,” said Nicholson. “The most important thing that you should remember and know about this very special and talented lady is that she is a born-again, committed servant of God.”

City, county and state representatives opened the ceremony, Madisonville Mayor Kevin Cotton spoke of King’s love for his fellow man.

“King would want us to do the work; he would want us to love that person. Even when we don’t want to, we should love that person,” he said. “Today, we honor the legacy of a man who focused on the greater good — his mission for civil rights ahead of personal comfort.”

Hopkins County Judge-Executive Jack Whitfield Jr. spoke of the differences between “like” and “love.” He said King was a wise man with a deep understanding of scripture and human nature.

“Love, at its core, is a choice. When we choose to love, we choose to drive out hate. When we love, we put others above ourselves,” he said. “We all want to succeed. We all want our country, our state and this little county to grow and prosper. We might have different views of what is success. We may have different ideas of where we need to go or how to get there — that’s good. You see, I learn nothing from someone who is just like me, who thinks just like me. We grow by being fed, and we’re not fed from within, but from others.”

State Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty said King had compassion for everyone he encountered.

“He had compassion for those who brutalized him, mocked him and tried to tarnish his reputation. Through his commitment to compassion and self-control, he humanized the problems that African-Americans experienced,” she said. “He showcased the plight of those who are oppressed in a way that had never been done before.

“He significantly changed the narrative and public perception of the horrific and unlawful treatment of African-Americans,” Prunty said. “His commitment to non-violent, peaceful protests helped usher and inspire a movement that’s ramifications can still be felt to this day.”

Dance groups from Oak Grove Baptist Church in Madisonville and Hopkinsville, Fire Inside Youth Adoration and All Nations House of Prayer performed interpretive dance numbers as part of the celebration. Musical performances included students from Madisonville North and Hopkins County Central as well as special guest Ladies of Praise Mass Choir from Evansville.

Toward the end of the celebration, James Bowles, the director of Cultural Diversity at Madisonville Community College, presented two MCC students — Brianaka Dulin and Lasia Vanlue — each with a $2,000 MLK Scholarship award.

On Sunday, Eastview Missionary Baptist Church held its annual community celebration. This year’s service hosted musical guests and paid tribute to King’s spiritual nature. Event organizer Michael Lowery said the service discussed King’s charge for unity rather than division.

“During the sermon, they talked about Dr. King’s dream,” said Lowery. “How his dream was yet alive, and how things that King talked about in his ‘dream’ are still coming to fruition in today’s society.”

Monday, Community leaders joined once more to celebrate the life of King as they held Madisonville’s 34th Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Wreath-Laying Service at the Larry Carney Center. The event is a way for the city to honor and remember King’s actions and transformative words. Cotton discussed King’s ideologies of courage, truth, integrity, humility and respect at that event.

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