Dreams abound at MLK celebration

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke the enduring words, "I have a dream," more than 40 years ago.

But for a group of men, women and children gathered Monday at the 1924 Courthouse in Newton, those words are as applicable today as they were when first spoken on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Catawba County Branch of the NAACP held its annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration Monday to commemorate King and his dream and how to make that dream a reality. Monday marked 25 years since the celebration became a federal holiday.

"Every year that we've had this, everyone has been excited," said Jerry L. McCombs, Catawba County NAACP branch president. "All of them have been looking forward to it."

The celebration started Monday at St. Paul's Methodist Church, located on South Ervin Avenue in Newton. Marchers, carrying banners and signs, walked from the church to the 1924 Courthouse in Newton, which is about half a mile away.

Catawba County's NAACP branch participated in the same walk for about 20 years.

Marchers reached the Courthouse Square in downtown Newton and joined about 100 other people, including city and county leaders, gathered for the annual ceremony.

Although many people from various backgrounds, races and hometowns spoke at the event, everyone's speeches were shaped by one hope: that people will continue to dream.

"We must stop waiting for others to go out and do our part," said keynote speaker Donnie Hoover, Mecklenburg County District Court judge. "Never underestimate the power of your dreams."

Hoover encouraged everyone in attendance at Monday's celebration not only to dream, but to act on those dreams because, "each of us has a duty to do our part."

Hoover focuses on children and preparing them to make a difference in their communities. He is part of a truancy program in Mecklenburg County to encourage children to attend school and complete their education.

Hoover's advice wasn't lost on the school-age children who attended the event, despite having school Monday to make up classes missed from winter weather.

McCombs spoke with Catawba County Schools interim superintendent Dr. Glenn Barger and superintendent Dr. Barry Redmond, with Newton-Conover City Schools, about rearranging the school makeup schedule to allow students not to attend school on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Although that scheduling wasn't possible, McCombs and the superintendents decided that students who attended the MLK celebration Monday won't have their absences counted against them.

For students Jasmine Edwards and Justin McCombs, attending the celebration at the 1924 Courthouse was an important part of honoring King's legacy.

"It's a big deal, because I'm doing what my forefathers did," said 18-year-old Edwards, Catawba County NAACP Youth Council president. "I might as well keep the dream going."

Edwards attends Bandys High School, and she said she was grateful to attend the event and not be penalized.

Justin McCombs, 22, who attends Lenoir-Rhyne University grew up attending MLK celebrations, and he said the events are part of who he is.

"It's part of a growing process," he said. "It lets them know that I had a dream, and I can accomplish that dream."

Catawba County Board of Commissioners chairwoman Kitty Barnes also spoke about the importance of Catawba County's youth and their education in achieving the county's goals and dreams.

"So often on this day we focus on Dr. King's dream," Barnes said, adding that everyone needs to make a conscious effort to turn that dream into a reality. "We need to band together and work together to create that dream."

The NAACP was scheduled to hold a food drive for people in attendance at the event, but last week's snowfall disrupted that plan. The bank was closed for several days, making Monday's food-distribution impossible.

McCombs promised attendees, however, that the drive will continue in the spring.