Legacy of civil rights pioneer inspires bishop, faithful to peaceful action

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Corrion Davis, 16, a Wirt/Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Academy sophomore from Gary recites the "I Have a Dream" speech at the 9th annual Tribute to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary on Jan. 10. King famously delivered the anti-racism speech at the Lincoln Memorial in August, 1963. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)


By Anthony D. Alonzo

Northwest Indiana Catholic


GARY – At the 9th annual Tribute to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bishop Donald J. Hying spoke about the timeless nature of the civil rights pioneer’s message and sought input on how the Church can continue to be at the heart of combating social ills.

       Holy Angels Cathedral, filled with the soaring spiritual sounds of the concert choir of the Wirt/Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Academy, hosted dozens of Gary-area residents for the King tribute on Jan 10.

       Between musical interludes and prayerful invocations, King’s landmark 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered, not by a professional orator as in recent years, but by a Wirt/Emerson sophomore.

       Sixteen-year-old Corrion Davis of Gary summoned a deep, bellowing tone to dramatically recite King’s 1,600-word anti-racism speech, originally delivered more than 52-years ago at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  

       “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation… One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition,” Davis read.

       Davis continued with King’s words of urgency: “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.”

       Bishop Hying told the Gary faithful that King’s message would endure because it was and is aligned with the Gospel of Jesus Christ: “His power and his transforming legacy still reaches us today,” Bishop Hying said of King.

       Comparing King’s 1950s and 60s activism to an aikido martial artist’s traditional approach of “disarming his opponent,” and even sharing a laugh after a confrontation, Bishop Hying implored today’s activists to stay the course of non-violence.

       “Dr. King was also an aikido wrestler because in a world that responded with violence and threats and hatred to his cause of civil rights, he responded with non-violence, he responded with forgiveness, he reacted with mercy,” Bishop Hying said. “He ceaselessly said the only power that can quell the hatred in our world is the power in love.”

Bishop Hying said the day’s gathering was evidence of people “not giving into despair,” but rather, “seeing possibilities” and “standing together” to ameliorate problems such as unemployment, violence and hatred in distressed neighborhoods.

       Bishop Hying’s remarks drew praise from parishioners and visitors who represented a variety of Gary-area denominations. Before the audience could complete their applause, the bishop asked for their ongoing assistance, “please tell me, ask me, demand that I get more involved in the life of our city.”

       Ss. Monica and Luke parishioner Kerry Triplett was a civil rights advocate in Gary at the time of King’s public pleas for fairness for Black Americans. She believes he had a heart of gold, which stands in contrast to some of today’s politicians and activists, who she said seem to have other agendas such as financial gain.

       “I’ve seen the ugly side of (society) and I’ve seen some betterment, but we still have a struggle, a long way to go,” Triplett said.

       Thea Bowman Leadership Academy sophomore Marvin Davis, said being at the cathedral for the tribute to King was “an honor because we celebrate such a powerful man. I’m an African-American young man, and growing up, my parents taught me always to show your support.”

       Davis, whose father is pastor of the A New Life Missionary Baptist Church in Gary, is a member of the fraternal service group Beta Mu Kudos, which he said allows him to promote the values that King espoused among other young people.

       The Gary teen, who prays regularly, believes the heart of the peaceful civil rights movement was and remains the church. It is a stabilizing influence, he said, even when frustration can tend to boil over, such as when apparent police brutality toward mainly young black men recently surfaced in Chicago.

       “Since the (civil rights movement) started in the church and from where we were then and where we’ve gotten now, we should stay with the church, because it has done more than enough for us,” Davis said.

       About a decade ago, longtime Holy Angels parishioner Katherine McReynolds was feeling “a hole in her life” at the passing of a family member. She said Bishop Dale J. Melczek noticed her mourning and proposed she channel her energies into an effort to revive King’s message in the Steel City.

       Since her initial organizational efforts, the cathedral parish has hosted dozens of young singers, seasoned speakers and a variety of Gary-area civic leaders for the annual tribute, which Bishop Melczek said was fitting because King’s activism started in the church.

       “We must continue in prayer, with the same type of expression and movement that Martin Luther King had us involved in: a peaceful movement of prayer first, and then going out to express yourself peacefully,” McReynolds said.

       Bishop Emeritus Melczek, who was out-of-town at the time of the tribute, was honored with a plaque commissioned by the King tribute committee for his ongoing support of the message of the slain civil rights leader.

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Bishop Donald J. Hying speaks to Gary-area faithful at the 9th annual Tribute to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary on Jan. 10. The bishop said King's legacy of "heroic love" lives on in those who act with mercy. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)



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The Wirt/Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Academy Concert Choir performs at the 9th annual Tribute to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary on Jan. 10. The nationally-recognized group is directed by Marion Lynn Boynes (right). (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

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