The words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech echoed off the walls of Joshua Chapel A.M.E. Church, inspiring community members to dedicate their lives to service.
Monday afternoon marked the 22nd year for the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, City of Waxahachie and the NAACP 6240 branch of Waxahachie to host the King Day Celebration. The day-long celebration also included the second annual Unity Parade and awards, as well as a short program at the Freedman Memorial Plaza.
During the post-parade celebration at Joshua Chapel A.M.E. Church, former Waxahachie High football coach Ricky Don Sargent performed a rendition of King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech which left the crowded pews empty as people took to their feet.
"Free at last, free at last. Great God almighty, We are free at last," Sargent shouted as King did nearly 56 years ago.
King gave the speech in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
“If we keep the vision of Dr. King, we keep the dream,” Pastor Myron Goins said.
The events all took place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which falls annually on the third Monday in January and commemorates King's Jan. 15 birthday. King, who would have been 90 years old this year, was a prominent civil rights leader and instrumental in desegregation. He was the youngest and first Black man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
King was assassinated in April 1968.
After the Unity Parade, participants made their way to Freedman Memorial Plaza where organizers spoke of King’s legacy. There, Waxahachie councilmember Chuck Beatty welcomed all and thanked them for their participation.
The plaza is a tribute to the people who made a contribution to Waxahachie, featuring their names etched into a stone in the center of the park. Broken chains line the ground and signify freedom on the sidewalk leading to the memorial stone.
With Martin Luther King Jr. Day being a day to serve others, Beatty said the park offers a quiet place to think about what can be done for the city. He reminded people that every day is a day of service.
At the Unity Parade, 5-year-old Emilio Bumgarner and 3-year-old Simon Bumgarner saw the impact King had on the community as they waved to firefighters and other participants as they drove by.
Stephen Bumgarner, Emilio and Simon’s father, said he and his wife adopted the boys and their two younger siblings in Oklahoma before moving to Waxahachie just after Christmas this past year for work.
He brought his sons to the parade to introduce them to their personal history in America because it is a different history than his or his wife's.
“We really wanted to educate them more on what that great man did,” he said.
Among the participants in the parade were Waxahachie Police Chief Wade Goolsby and Charlotte Watson, Unity of the Community Ennis executive director, who both served as the grand marshals and sat atop a blue Mustang. The title came with the Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Award the two were gifted by the Ellis County African American Hall of Fame moments before the parade began.
In the award’s second year, Goolsby and Watson were recognized for their work in the community and for exemplifying King in their everyday life, said Dr. Jamal Rasheed, Ellis County African American Hall of Fame executive director.
“We are bridging the gap,” Rasheed said. “These people are doing the work of Martin Luther King Jr.”
Watson said she is honored to be a recipient of the award and to embody King. She said it is important to serve, not just on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but every day.
“It’s humbling,” Goolsby added about receiving the award. He later spoke at the King Day Celebration where he emphasized the need for police and the community to work together.
King was such a courageous man and stood up to the entire government, and he serves as a role model to everyone, he noted. He said they have to be like King and be courageous to work with each other.
“We can show Washington a few things,” he continued. “We can show them what it's like for people to come together and work together, and it's okay to have different perspectives.”
He added that the U.S. has a colorful and sometimes bad history, but as a community can’t forget it. Together people must learn from mistakes and move forward.
“We have to look to the future," Goolsby continued. "We have to be willing to forgive and keep focus on what the ultimate goal is.”