AVON PARK - "Love." It was one of his most used and cherished words and is what is needed to "save our cities, our state, our countries and the world."
As she stood on stage during the 27th Highlands County NAACP Annual Martin Luther King Breakfast, that was focus of the message the Rev. Brenda Wallace, the keynote speaker, conveyed through her memory of King and through her lessons of life experiences.
Inside the Grogan Center of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church Monday, about 125 guests including Highlands County residents, government officials, religious leaders and civic leaders, gathered to discuss, share and spread King's message of love and perseverance .
Wallace is the spiritual care manager, and association for clinical pastoral education supervisor with Chapters Health System in Lakeland. She served as an ordained minister and pastor of churches in Decatur and Atlanta, Ga, and preached from King's pulpit at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta.
She was also an engineer with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and AT&T for Bellsouth (AT&T).
"We need to see a living God in the faces of everyone," she said, after leading the audience in singing the 18th century hymn, "A Charge to Keep I Have." "It takes a village to achieve freedom. If anyone is not free, none of us are free."
Wallace, who serves as the secretary to the Southeast Region of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, stressed three of King's guidelines: to love, one must begin my analyzing oneself; individuals needs to realize there is good in everyone and to avoid hating anyone; and a hated person has a "higher obligation to help the hater and not return hate for hate."
She also reiterated the need to love, care and pay attention to children, as they are the future.
"We have come a long way in our fight for freedom and liberty, but we still have a long way to go," she said, "Love is the only way to approach everyone when you are being treated unlovingly."
After an invocation by Pastor Byron Wells of the Ridge Area Seventh-day Adventist Church, the breakfast began with a welcome by Pastor William Sherill Jr. of the Miracle Deliverance Church of God, the singing of the Black National Anthem by the Sons of Solomon choir, a spiritual song by Arlene Gasper and a skit by breakfast emcees Alfred and Beverley Nolton about black accomplishments of history.
Prior to the breakfast, a series of King speeches were played on a screen above the hall stage.
Between speakers' addresses, the event was broken up with spiritual singing by Tracy Blackstock and an interpretive dance to by Minister Leroy Taylor and his wife, Fatima.
The breakfast, blessed by Lady of Grace Fr. Nicholas McLoughlin, was organized by chairwoman and NAACP member Maxine Floyd. She said the turnout was down from last year, possibly due to heavy fog surrounding the city Monday morning and a low turnout from Lake Placid residents and church and NAACP members.
Al Hinson, president of the Highlands County NAACP, said "we shall not be moved" was the theme for the 2014 breakfast. In his message, he said the people still "face the foes of job discrimination, segregation of schools, schoolhouse to jailhouse expressway and stand-your-ground laws that gives profilers excuses to beat or kill our young black men."
Avon Park's Miracle Deliverance Church of God member Centrilla Sherrill said the breakfast was inspiring and the speakers highly motivating. She said King's messages of love and hope were properly expressed through song and speech.
"They expressed love and moving forward. He (King) was a man of goodness and leadership; they expressed that," she said.