Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Queen Esther Baptist Church welcomed U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick D. Sargent as guest speaker. From left are his wife of 26 years, Sherry Hill Sargent, the daughter of Lloyd and Eleanor Hill of Weems, Brig. Gen. Sargent and church member Edna Davenport.
How far African-Americans have come in the past 50 years in their struggle for equality was clear in their choice for guest speaker January 19, Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Sargent, U.S. Army Medical Command.
The highly accomplished and decorated general spoke about poverty, violence and equality themes from the civil rights struggle that continue to resonate today. He spoke of the work that has been accomplished and the work that must be done.
“I was the first in my family to graduate from high school,” he told the congregation. “I listened to my mother...who pushed education as the way to improve our lives. She gave me $15 and put me on a bus to go to Florida State University,” he said. While she wished she could afford to give him more money, he told her “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
Recently, he and his wife drove their daughter to Florida State to begin college. She started with everything she needed, including a computer and plenty of food in the refrigerator, he said.
“It’s very different from what I went through...You have to be humbled, gracious and blessed to be where they are today. There are more abundant opportunities today than when I went to school, so I don’t understand when people don’t take advantage of today’s opportunities.”
Brig. Gen. Sargent talked about the impact of King “on the fabric of our nation” and his inspiration of hope in his “I have a dream” speech.
He reflected on King’s dramatic speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” given extemporaneously on the last night of his life, April 3, 1968, after a day of marching with striking sanitation workers in Memphis.
“Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘(God’s) allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know...that we, as a people, will get to the promised land,’” he quoted.
“It’s time for policies to be color-blind,” said Brig. Gen. Sargent. “Some have achieved the quest for equality. Some believe we made the promised land through the election of President Barack Obama.”
He said he believed King would be proud of the diversity in the way they live and work, but disappointed in the missed opportunities such as the graduation failure rate of young African-American men.
“How destructive our society has become with guns and violence. He would want us to roll up our sleeves and become a part of the solution. I believe Dr. Martin Luther King would be humbled by the memorial on the Mall to an African-American...a man who stirred the conscious to make us a more perfect union.”
King would want African-Americans to carry on his legacy with passion and to make a commitment to serve others, he said.
He concluded his presentation by asking people to, “Continue to pray for our men and women employed in harm’s way.”
The event featured breakfast, music, songs by the youth choir, recitations and was one of several celebrations held in the area and across the nation.
Queen Esther church youth presided over the event, led by April Gaddy. Batiyah Coleman read from scripture, Tiffany Johnson gave the prayer. Nygeria Smith welcomed members and guests, Jasmyn Tomlin gave an original reading, Terrence Prue said grace. Keasia Smith sang a solo about the bombing of a church in Birmingham. Giovanni Davenport introduced the speaker and Kalib Rich presented him with a commemorative plaque.