First Baptist program honors Martin Luther King Jr.

Williamsburg’s First Baptist Church celebrated the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Monday with a program featuring music, speeches and readings of the civil rights leader’s famous words on his birthday.

“It’s a national holiday,” said Hunter Bristow, a member of Hickory Neck Episcopal Church. “He’s a great leader of bringing people together.”

He attended the program with his wife, Judy.

“I like to stand for unity,” she said.

Keith Russell, of Long Island, was in town visiting his grandparents, who attend First Baptist. He and his family decided to brave the cold and honor King.

“With what’s been going on, it’s more than necessary to remember Martin Luther King and what he stood for,” he said.

First Baptist has hosted Martin Luther King Day events for more than 30 consecutive years. This year, the choir of Bruton Parish Episcopal Church joined that of First Baptist for a variety of hymns, including “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “We Shall Overcome.” The Bruton Parish Handbell Choir also performed.

But the most thunderous applause of the evening went to 13-year-old violinist Kearston Gonzales and her 11-year-old cellist sister, Kendall. The duo performed several classical songs, underscoring the program’s themes of hope and perseverance.

The church’s parking lot was full for the program, which was free and open to the public, a deliberate decision on the church’s part.

“We try to invite the public in,” said Deacon Opelene Davis, part of First Baptist’s history ministry, which organized Monday’s proceedings. “We try to have people in the community involved.”

Davis and several other history ministry members spoke in addition to the pastors of both First Baptist and Bruton Parish. They emphasized King’s enduring legacy and how his dream and ideals matter now as much as ever.

“Somebody must tell the story,” ministry member Ethell Hill told the audience. “If not us — who?”

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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