Unity and love focus of 2018 MLK commemorative service message
“Ring with the harmonies of Liberty,” is a line from author James Weldon Johnson’s 1900 poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Johnson’s brother John put the words to music five years later, and the NAACP adopted it as its official song. Often branded as the Black National Anthem, the song’s lyrics set the tone of the theme for 2018 MLK week activities at Clemson University.
“By All Means Keep Moving,” came from a speech Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered in 1967 to an audience at a high school in Cleveland, Ohio. The Harvey and Lucinda Gantt Multicultural Center at Clemson organized the week of activities and built on that theme with a call to action for each day.
Clemson’s 36th Annual MLK Commemorative Service at the Brooks Center for Performing Arts Jan. 16 included presentations to recipients of the MLK Awards for Excellence in Service.
President Jim Clements and Chief Diversity Officer Lee Gill reognized the student, faculty/staff member and community leader recipients.
“Like Dr. King, our student honoree works tirelessly for what he believes in and for what makes Clemson University special,” Gill said.
Tracy Grate received the student award. His list of accomplishments includes serving as a senator for Undergraduate Student Government and working for the Council on Diversity Affairs and Student Affairs Advisory Board. Grate also is a mentor for Tiger Alliance and a sponsor for Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
Gill said the honoree representing faculty and staff works quietly and selflessly to bring the Clemson community together.
“Karon Donald was instrumental in creating the staff development program, which is now such an important fixture here at Clemson University –- not only for staff, but for everyone,” Gill said.
Donald served on the President’s Commission on Black Faculty and Staff for 10 years before becoming its chair.
Adraine Jackson-Garner founded the Littlejohn Community Center in Clemson. The multi-purpose center supports and addresses economic opportunity, after- school programs for teenagers, a summer feeding program, education and juvenile justice. Jackson-Garner received the award for her community leadership.
“Mrs. Jackson-Garner identifies the needs of the community and searches for grants that could help meet those needs,” Gill said. “She advocates for those who are not able to advocate for themselves.
“Keep honoring” was the call to action during the evening event. Keynote speaker Jennifer Pinckney, widow of slain pastor and S.C. Senator Clementa Pinckney, delivered a message on love as she spoke about the similarities between her life and the late Coretta Scott King’s.
“Like Coretta Scott King, I, too, married a man who rolled up his sleeves and got down and worked with people,” Pinckney said. “Like Coretta Scott King, I, too, had to bury a man with dreams.”
A white supremacist killed the senator and eight other people during a Wednesday night church service at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston June 17, 2015 .
Pinckney walked the audience through the chilling moments that followed the first gunshots she heard that night. She was in the pastor’s office, tending to the couple’s youngest daughter, Melana.
“As my daughter and I sat in his office hearing the gunshots, my initial thoughts were, ‘What’s going on? Did something blow up? What is that?’” Pinckney recalled.
When she realized she heard gunfire, Pinckney said she grabbed her daughter, ran into the secretary’s office and put her daughter under the desk. She told her daughter to “tell your sister (Eliana) I love her.”
Pinckney wanted to get help, but she left her cellphone in the pastor’s office. She said bullets came through the walls of the secretary’s office so she took cover with her daughter. She placed her hand over Melana’s mouth to ensure she stayed quiet. The killer turned the door knob, but he didn’t come in. He left. Pinckney said she sneaked back into the pastor’s office, got her phone and called for help.
Pinckney said hate killed her husband and the other worshipers that night, but she hopes to change the narrative by becoming an “ambassador for love.”
“Clementa would want me to continue to trust in God and keep moving. Dr. King would want us all to continue trusting in the Lord. Don’t let their hard work go in vain. We have to keep moving,” Pinckney said. “Love should guide all of our actions, intentions, decisions, all that we do as a people. God says to love with all your heart, soul and mind. Let us go out and love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Pinckney established the Clementa C. Pinckney Foundation to continue the charitable work of her husband. She said her life’s motto is “be joyful, pray continually and give thanks.”
The message resonated with film students from the University of North Carolina School of Arts (UNCSA) in Winston-Salem, who traveled to Clemson for the commemorative service. The students are producing a documentary called “What can we learn from tragedy?”
“We are delving into the crater of pain and confusion left in the lives of those who lost loved ones in the Charleston church massacre,” said UNCSA senior Moriah Hall.
Hall said the team hopes to include a perspective on the human condition as it applies to pain, trauma and tragedy.
“The commemorative program at Clemson was invaluable,” Hall said. “We got a firsthand account of what it means to move forward, past hate and violence, by choosing to love our neighbors and embrace our differences.”
The student filmmakers said they were touched by Pinckney’s message, and the group plans to share her testimony in their documentary.
The Harvey and Lucinda Gantt Multicultural Center creates diverse learning environments that enhance the intercultural experience of students. The center supports and advocates for the needs of all students, challenges students to think critically about themselves and their communities, provides engaging experiential learning opportunities and empowers students to be positive change agents.