Event addresses MLK's vision

January 18, 2012

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

About 40 people talked Tuesday about how to move Martinsville-Henry County closer to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a “beloved community” during a roundtable program at the New College Institute.

The Rev. Tyler Millner, pastor of Morning Star Holy Church in Axton and moderator of the event, said King described the “beloved community” as one in which people of all colors come together, and people who are in one segment of the community take responsibility for the welfare and meaningful living of people in other segments. Beloved communities also use their resources to benefit all community members rather than just a few, Millner said.

“We each have to help each other” in a beloved community, Millner said after the event. “We have to fuss and cuss until we can get a consensus. And that is what we’re not doing enough of” now.

Participants at Tuesday’s event expressed various opinions about what needs to be done to create a more inclusive society, or one in which people of all races, faiths, ages and gender are represented.

Dr. J.C. Richardson Jr., pastor of Mount Sinai Church in Martinsville and a member of the Martinsville School Board, said building an inclusive society starts in the church. He said church members should become involved in at least one community board, commission or committee to help make needed changes.

Church members also should be louder in standing up against social injustice, he said.

Richardson said he thinks it is up to the majority race to recruit those of the minority for community leadership positions.

Curtis Millner Sr., who represents the Iriswood District on the Henry County School Board, agreed that more minorities should be on boards and hold leadership positions. He also said more recruiting should take place.

Curtis Millner was part of the first class of a civic leaders program launched locally in 2007, but none of the class members was contacted to hold leadership positions, he said.

“A board should be representative” of the population, Millner added.

According to census figures, Martinsville’s population was 49.9 percent white, 45 percent black and 4 percent Hispanic in 2010, with people of other backgrounds making up the remaining 1.1 percent. Census data showed Henry County’s population was 72.9 percent white, 21.9 percent black, 4.7 percent Hispanic and 0.5 percent of other backgrounds the same year.

Don Williams of Martinsville, who also took part in Tuesday’s event, said he did not agree with people using the term “minority” because there are more people of color than those who are not, he said.

To him, the term “minority” gives the connotation of “less than,” which gives powers to others just by the terminology, Williams added.

Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins talked about the city council’s efforts to be more inclusive. She said council formed a human relations advisory committee in March to ensure a government that is “efficient, transparent, affordable, inclusive and collaborative.”

The committee was formed after residents of the city’s Westside — a predominantly black neighborhood — advocated for a community center there and told city council that they felt forgotten, Adkins said.

That “resonated with council,” she said.

As talks continued, it became apparent that a more honest dialogue on race and class needed to occur in the city, Adkins said.

At city council’s last meeting, the advisory committee, which had been meeting for 10 months, asked that a human rights and relations commission be formed with the mission of ensuring equity and opportunity for all citizens, Adkins said.

One of the proposed goals of the commission would be to “bridge the fault line of race and class that inhibit progress and erode community health,” she said.

Some council members had concerns about the role and potential cost of the commission, and a vote on its creation was postponed.

Adkins said Tuesday that the more inclusive a community is, the more networking can take place. A more inclusive community also makes it more likely that there will be mobilization across social, political and economic divisions, she said.

Tyler Millner said after the program that those in attendance listed supporting the creation of the commission as a way to work toward a beloved community. Other suggested actions included creating job development programs for young people and ex-offenders; promoting higher education; expanding access to health care; and offering diversity training for teachers.

Adkins noted during the event that King changed the conversation in this country on what it means to be inclusive, and “we are attempting to do the same in Martinsville,” she said.

Chad Martin of Martinsville talked about the role of churches. He said that if pastors and churches came together, there would be no hunger or race problems in the area.

The Rev. Thurman Echols, pastor of Moral Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Axton, said everyone must act as one to be recipients and beneficiaries of God. Martinsville is big enough for everyone to live together equally, Echols added.

Tyler Millner said that to have inclusiveness, the distribution of money or equity should be balanced among the population. Economics is at the heart of many of these struggles, Millner added.

David Abram Brim of Martinsville suggested that a way to make a more beloved community is by having fathers assume more responsibility, which would help keep families together.


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