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Norwich — Because of the civil rights successes of the Rev. Martin Luther King, today's black youth can have great dreams of growing up to be doctors, lawyers, Supreme Court justices, four-star generals, corporate executives with a corner office or even the nation's top executive in the Oval Office, the Rev. S. Yvonne Hall said Monday.
But it's not that easy, Hall said as she preached to a full house at the Evans Memorial AME Zion Church during the Norwich branch of the NAACP's annual Martin Luther King Day celebration.
"The dream is not going to come to you," Hall said. "You have to go after your dream. You've got work to do, young people."
Her audience alternately applauded, shouted affirmations to Hall's points and fell to silence as she urged them to follow King's example in pursuit of equality, dedication to God, prayer and perseverance.
Hall took apart King's name, assigning characteristics to each letter, starting with "M," saying he was "a man of substance," using "T" to call him "a thinker," "I" to say he was an idealist who could "look beyond what was and see what could be," and ending with "G" to say King was "a great man."
Hall's message didn't end there. She said King must have felt failures, pressures against his plans and weariness of the struggle. She told young people they too would face the same feelings as they pursue their dreams and career goals. In those times, Hall said people need to trust in Jesus to guide them.
"We might not be where Dr. King dreamed we would be," Hall said, "but thank God we are not where we were."
Participants from throughout the region attended the Norwich NAACP's event, many of whom also attended the morning's King Day march in New London.
The Rev. Tarishia Martin, religious affairs chairwoman for the Norwich branch, started Monday's Norwich march by reminding about 50 participants at the City Hall plaza of the contrasting experience marchers who accompanied King went through.
After a moment of silence to remember those who lost their lives in the civil rights fight, the newly installed Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Freedom Bell was rung three times before the march got underway.
"When they marched, they were struggling with billy clubs and hoses sprayed at them," Martin, of Shiloh Baptist Church, said. "We don't have those struggles today."
Instead, a Norwich police motorcycle officer led the marchers down Bath and Franklin streets to the Evans Memorial AME Zion Church on McKinley Avenue, and a police cruiser brought up the rear. Onlookers smiled as the marchers passed by singing and chanting, and children home from school rode bicycles along the route.
At the church, those who had braved the cold and wind were greeted by a couple dozen others in full song as the Evans Praise and Worship Team launched the program with the song "I am a Soldier in the Army of the Lord."