Religions and Spirituality

Olean Celebrates Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King During Event at First Presbyterian Church

4a330a4905ce90fd20af_1319ebafe658130c7ee4_MLK_Olean_2__2_.JPG
The Gospel Choraliers clap and sing along to "United We Stand." Credits: Emily Losito
27e098ccfc2254b1be8f_6a2c4b73856ab86651f9_MLK_Olean_3__2_.JPG
Stars of Christ mime performers dance to "My Life is in Your Hands" with colorful scarves around their waists. Credits: Emily Losito
16b8c949b9d4ced03b87_df1606d3840fb22c854c_MLK_Olean_4__2_.JPG
The congregation sings along with the Olean High School Choir as they sing the popular song "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen. Credits: Emily Losito
bd12db43f0023595f02c_3535f6dfec3911c0f448_MLK_Olean_1__2_.JPG
Pastor Wesley Gilbert stands at the podium asking the congregation to all hold hands while he speaks about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Credits: Emily Losito
4a330a4905ce90fd20af_1319ebafe658130c7ee4_MLK_Olean_2__2_.JPG

OLEAN, NY – "Clap when you feel it and sing along," Christina Lopez, master of ceremonies, encouraged those congregated in First Presbyterian Church on Laurens Street Sunday afternoon.

The nearly 150 people who gathered for a celebration of the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. responded by raising their hands and voices in "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

The African-American anthem with lyrics by James Weldon Johnson that include "Stony the road we trod, bitter the chast'ning rod" spoke to a theme resonating with those gathered for the event. Speakers recalled periods of civil unrest in the United States and noted that those battles fought by King, by members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and by civil rights activists nationwide were, and are, far from over.

Sign Up for E-News

William "Bill" Clemons, a member of the Olean-based Gospel Choraliers, and Mike Marvin, a member of the celebration's organizing committee since its 1989 inaugural year, led a discussion focusing on the unending journey. The two laid out an anecdote-filled timeline spanning one of the first of King's boycotts to the most recent acts of civil disobedience carried out by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Marvin told the gathering how decades ago he witnessed firsthand the inconsistencies in the treatment of blacks and whites. 

"On my 18th birthday, I was arrested for possession of a handgun," Marvin said. "At that time in New York State, there was a minimum one-year sentence for the crime. I was let off with only six months."

After serving his sentence, Marvin, who is white, went to college and met Alonzo, his roommate, an African-American who had been in jail.

“He hadn't done anything wrong—he was a straight-A student with recommendations from his teachers—but he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Marvin said. “He was sentenced to five years in Attica State Prison."

Marvin described the ways in which injustice continued to present itself in different forms, citing the Supreme Court's June 2013 decision to strike down Section IV of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which freed nine states to change election laws without advance federal approval.

Marvin later quoted King: "Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war." And then Marvin listed the ways in which he believes the activist organization Black Lives Matter is connected to the battles fought by King.

"Like Martin Luther King Jr., Black Lives Matter sometimes uses civil disobedience to resist oppression," Marvin said. "And like the Civil Rights movements of the '50s and '60s, Black Lives Matter has been misrepresented by the media."

The celebration included musical performances from the Olean High School Choir, the Gospel Choraliers and the mime performance group Stars for Christ and a poetry reading by Ola Mae Gayton.

Gayton took the podium and spoke these words from "America the Beautiful":

"O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain." And she said, "The reflections of the African-American plight in ‘America the Beautiful’ honor Martin Luther King Jr. and all of those who were and still are out on the battlefield, fighting for liberty and justice for all."

Gayton went on to talk of those she described as the "do-nothing elected officials" who ensure impunity and who try to curtail the achievements of African-Americans. She cited president-elect Donald Trump as a man who has "put his finger on the feverish pulse of that population."

"We are clear witnesses to civilization's decline," Gayton concluded.

Beverly Twitty-Terrien, Ph.D., director of the Gospel Choraliers, spoke after Gayton and shared her belief that all hope was not lost.

"We're here to help the dream become a reality," Twitty-Terrien said. "It's a lot of hard work, and it's not over yet, but it can happen. Today, it did happen. We can thank God for that."

Clad in a purple suit, Gerald Slack Sr., superintendent of the Queen City District for the Pentecostal denomination, shared stories of the childhood he had growing up in New Orleans and gave an example of  how times have changed for the better.

"I was in New Orleans with my family and when I went to Walmart, I almost cried," Slack said. "People will say, 'Well, why'd you almost cry?' It's because when I was little, I wasn't allowed to go on that side of town."

"Momma would say, 'Don't run! Don't run! Don't run! You may get shot,' " Slack continued. "We'd say, 'Why?' She'd say, 'We don't know why.' "

And Slack offered the ceremony's closing prayer.

After giving thanks to God and King through prayer, the congregation stood, clapped and swayed along as Clemons, the soloist in "So Good," sang and danced his praise to God and dedicated the song to the memory of those the congregation had lost in the past year.

The ceremony concluded with all members of the celebration encircling the sanctuary, their hands clasped in unity as they sang together "We Shall Overcome."

During the reception that followed, Clemons commented, "I am happy that we were able to have the celebration again this year, and I am even happier that we were able to fill the church."

 

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Greater Olean

Grandpa Practiced Sustainability

My grandpa was of the Depression Era. Sustainability wasn’t “a thing” back then — it was just the way you lived. Though he was raised in a time when you were thankful to be able to put a good meal on the table, he likely had a standard of life that we would consider average or middle class today. He didn’t grow up in a slum or shanty town, but he did understand the ...

'March for Our Lives' Started A Historic Movement

Shoes on the ground. People chanting. Signs held high. Music playing in the background.

It is the start of a historic movement. A moment when every race, gender and age came together as one. A movement that involved change and a March for Our Lives.

As a student journalist going out to the world, taking part in a national movement truly moved me. Reporting the significance of March for ...

Bonnies Historic Season Will Give Community Source of Pride Years to Come

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY -- The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball season came to an end earlier than the team had hoped. Coaches looked disappointed, and players covered their faces with towels. St. Bonaventure’s (26-8) loss to Florida (21-12) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament left many thinking what if?

However, the Bonnies historic season is nothing for the team to ...

Archbishop Walsh High School in Olean Offers Free Bus Transportation to Bradford Area Students

May 27, 2018

OLEAN, NY -- Archbishop Walsh Academy is pleased to announce that they will be providing busing services free of charge for Bradford area residents who wish to send their students to the Catholic high school located just across the Pennsylvania-New York state line. The bus will pick up students at a yet to be determined location in Bradford, and bus them to the school located on Route ...

Two Joes Scholarship Fund to preserve legacy of community businessmen

For many, a memorial scholarship is a living way to continue the memory of a loved one.

For Hank Certo and Louis “Ledgie” DeRose, the Two Joes Scholarship Fund is a way to remember two people who left a huge impact not only on both them, but also the entire community.

Certo and DeRose recently established the Two Joes Scholarship Fund in the name of community-minded businessmen ...

Golf “Fore” Heroes Fund supports Wounded warriors through golf

When he takes to the course on July 7, CJ Mackey will do so with a smile, but he will also know that there is a whole lot more to the day than birdies and bogies.

As a member of the Golf “Fore” Heroes Tournament committee, Mackey has been a part of organizing the annual tournament to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, which has now raised over $17,000 since 2016.

This ...

'A Day in the Life': One Transportation Supervisor Serves Portville and Olean

PORTVILLE, NY – A whiteboard with dozens of destinations and vehicle numbers written in various colors sits inside the Portville bus garage, ready to be changed at any moment. David Youngs, the transportation supervisor of the Portville and Olean School Districts, knows that before 2 almost every afternoon, he is likely to receive an email changing the entire meticulously planned ...

'A Day in the Life' Follows Della Moore of the African American Center for Cultural Development

OLEAN, NY – When Della Moore walks down the street, she greets everyone she passes and makes sure to ask, “How are you doing?” 

From the moment I joined her at the 7-Eleven on a cloudy, cold December morning until we finished making our stops along State and North Union streets, she remained ...

'Day in the Life' Follows Warehouse Selector Justus Elliot

OLEAN, NY -- For Justus Elliot, time and pace are essential. As a warehouse selector for Olean Wholesale Grocery Co-Op, most of the 21-year-old’s job calls for efficiency.

“Everything is time-based," Elliot explained. "One hundred percent is the norm, and it’s what we work for every day. If our score is less, then we are moving too slow, and we kick it into ...

Happy Veterans Day, Mom

What began as an attempt to boost her GPA soon turned into a 22-year career for my mom, Ramona Lee Discavage.

On the first day of her freshman year at St. Bonaventure University in 1989, members of the Army ROTC Seneca Battalion helped incoming freshmen move their stuff into their dorm rooms.  Afterward, they invited all of the freshmen to a lunch.

“When they described the ...

Lynn Kemp: ‘Best Soldier I Could Be’

Lynn Kemp is nearing 95 and knows he has lived a good life.

“The good Lord has been awful good to me,” recalled the lifelong resident of Shinglehouse, Pennsylvania. “I never refused an order. I tried to be the best soldier I could be. I don’t know what your relationship is with God, but mine is pretty close.”

Born Oct. 29, 1920, Lynn grew up in a home on Turkey ...

WW II museum provides role models for young people

When Steve Appleby asks area students if they know Snoop Dog, Eminem, Kanye West, the Kardashians, Parris Hilton or Miley Cyrus, they answer yes. Then Appleby will ask which of them knows Jason Dunham is, and the students will not have a clue.

Appleby will explain that Jason Dunham was a Marine from Scio, in Allegany County, New York, who was killed in Iraq in 2006 after jumping on a grenade ...