PETERSBURG, Va. – On the day the nation paused to see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a ceremony Monday in the city where the holiday originated, the keynote speaker reminded his audience that service to others is based on compassion and some divine intervention.
“If the dream is ever to become a reality, we must have love for our fellow man,” Bishop Lanier Twyman told a packed house at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Petersburg, Virginia. “Our love shouldn’t just be in words. Compassion will rearrange your priorities.”
Twyman drew similarities between King’s civil rights service and the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan who stopped to help a wounded man when priests and others would not. Like King, Twyman said the Samaritan decided that helping the wounded was more important than what he originally planned to do that day.
“Interruption can be a divine appointment,” he said. “John the Revelator put it this way: ‘My little children, let us not love with words, nor with tongue, but with deeds.'”
King lived by that example, and Twyman said today’s society should too. The story of the Samaritan, Twyman said, serves as an example of inclusion because it proves that service should not be limited to a particular group.
‘This Samaritan didn’t ask him if [the injured man] was black or white because it didn’t matter,” Twyman said. “He didn’t ask him if he was rich or poor, because it didn’t matter. He didn’t ask him if he was a Democrat or a Republican, because it didn’t matter. He didn’t ask him if he was gay or straight because it didn’t matter. The point is that there was a need that had to be met. The main thing is that he was in trouble and needed help.”
Twyman, a bishop of St. Stephen’s Baptist Church in Temple Hills, Maryland, rounded off his remarks with a quote from King: “The time is always right to do what is right.”
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Kaine’s “death of childhood” experience
Before Twyman took the stage, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, a frequent visitor to Tabernacle for King’s celebrations, shared a childhood memory that he says inspired him to learn more about King and his legacy .
As a 10-year-old growing up in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, Kaine recalled that he and his brothers were cared for by a grandmother-like neighbor while his parents were away. It was the day King was killed, April 4, 1968, and a news bulletin interrupted normal television programming.
Kaine recalled the first reaction the woman he had previously described as a “sweetheart” gave when the bulletin came out.
“The first words that came out of her mouth were, ‘Serve that White right,” Kaine said to audible cries and reactions from those present. ‘I was so confused about that. I call this a “death of childhood” experience because when you’re a young person, people who treat you nice are, well, they’re a good person. People who treat you badly, well, they’re a bad person. It’s just simple. But I had never in my life had a good person say something so cruel. using language that I know was bad, but also celebrating someone’s death.”
Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond and governor of Virginia, said his experience led him to become a civil rights attorney and later enter the political arena.
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‘Day of Service’
Following the ceremony, Tabernacle hosted its annual “Day of Service” at its Community Life Center. Volunteers were on hand to conduct blood pressure tests and demonstrate life-saving techniques, give away food and provide information about flu and COVID vaccinations. There was also a demonstration of administering Narcan to someone who has overdosed on drugs and needs revival.
“We know that the work needed here in the Petersburg community is critical,” said Paula Starnes, chief operating officer of Aetna Medical, one of the sponsors of the event. Starnes said the people who traditionally attend activities like Mondays “often don’t know what their healthcare needs are because they don’t have time to go to the hospital, they don’t have time to get regular checkups.”
Monday marked the seventh year that the Tabernacle hosted a celebration of King and the day of service.