Niagara Gazette — When in doubt, pay it forward.
This was the message throughout the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration at Niagara Falls High School Thursday. It was his words and his actions that inspired the theme of the event, said mistress of ceremonies Judie Glaser.
“It seemed (pay it forward) was a different take on the theme of ‘day on, not a day off,’ “ she said, comparing the ideals to the similar theme of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, which has been nationally recognized for decades on the holiday chosen to remember the civil rights leader.
The night’s honorees certainly exemplified the theme of the night, as well. Whether it’s the 50 years of service of Sister Beth Brosmer, executive director of Heart, Love and Soul Food Pantry, the 30-plus year calling of Yvonne and Matthew Davis of the Lord’s Day Dinner or the youthful presence of high school senior Shaun Jenkins, the message of giving back was never forgotten.
Even keynote speaker the Rev. Jeffrey Carter Jr., of Ephesus Ministries in Buffalo, got in on the action, explaining he made a loving sacrifice of his own when he donated a kidney to his son in 1999. His involvement in organ and tissue donation found him in Pasadena, Calif., earlier this month, a participant in the famous Rose Bowl Parade.
He used his experience to address the weapons at the disposal of those who wish to complete the battle King led until his assassination April 4, 1968. Those weapons, he said, are values, including “love,” “hope,” “respect” and “life.”
“Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t just an articulate man,” he said. “He was not just a brilliant person. He was a person of integrity, a person of values. He knew what it was to love.”
One of the evening’s surprises came with Jenkins at the podium accepting his award as the Youth Civil Rights Achievement Award. He announced his mother, Pamela Rankin, was celebrating her birthday Thursday. Following the event, Rankin said her son’s success made her “very proud, blessed, happy.”
His grandmother, Patricia Rankin, said she was happy to see her family represent positivity in the community.
“This is something positive,” she said. “This is something he can see to rise above. He’s been in the dramas, he’s had a part in Willy Wonka. He’s moving forward.”
As for the Spirit of MLK Award recipients, Yvonne and Matthew Davis suffered through a tumultuous 2013. In July, heavy rains flooded their Ashland Avenue home, nearly ruining the upcoming work of their The Lord’s Day Dinner by destroying their equipment and forcing them to throw out much of the basic staples they use for their holiday meals.
They exhausted themselves searching for help replacing what they could, either through donations or by purchasing themselves. Thanksgiving and Christmas meals were provided as scheduled, meeting the calling Yvonne said she’s had since she began her service more than 30 years ago.
For Yvonne, the recognition just means the work she and her family does is reaching the ones it should.
“It was marvelous,”she said of the night’s ceremony. “Words can’t express what went on (Thursday). This tops it all. This just shows that it’s orchestrated by the Lord. He knows what He wants. And we are paying it forward.”
The night was not without a little excitement, provided by the Niagara Falls Housing Authority Youth Chorus under the direction of Diana M. Reeves. The crowd was clapping, singing and moving along to a rock and roll medley they performed on stage following a pair of religious song performances. A small skit lit the crowd up with laughter as the children debated what rock and roll had to do with Martin Luther King Jr.Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.