Soulful songs and heartfelt prayers filled the Concert Hall as hundreds gathered Monday night to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, swaying with the music of the Martin Luther King Choir of Norwalk and standing to "give themselves to the Lord."
The Rev. Sonya Merrill, who presided over the event, couldn't contain herself after Hughie Askew and the choir got everyone involved in their rendition of "We Invite You in Lord."
"I know this is a citywide event. But when you think of the goodness of Jesus, and everything he has done for you, there's something about opening up your heart and letting him in and acknowledging the fact that he is with you, it makes you want to shout, it makes you want to shout, oh yes," she said. "We invite you in Lord." She sang, too, performing "Life Every Voice and Sing," the Negro National Anthem .
Many took turns at the lectern. "Happy Martin Luther King birthday," Amanda Brown said after she stood to recognize the many politicians in attendance. "Hallelujah. Without him I probably wouldn't be standing here."
Kaitlin Oliver of Bethel AME Church welcomed the crowd, the Rev. Napoleon Harris of Shiloh Baptist Church preached an opening prayer and the Rev. Richard Clarke prayed for the offertory, a benefit for the Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund.
The Rev. Jeffrey Ingraham of Calvary Baptist Church gave the memorial message. "It must be said that King was human, just like all of us," he said. "In no way was he perfect. ... Whatever his personal challenges may have been, his faith and theology made provisions for forgiveness and reconciliation."
He said King touched many lives and served as an example. "It is my contention that the conditions of our times warrant a recapturing of the ideals promulgated and lived out by King," he said. "The challenges of today are no different than any other time in our history."
Those ideals included family, community, faith and education.
"In spite of King's middle-class status, in spite of his exposure to the wider culture, his roots always remained in the religion of his black slave forebears," he said. "Even as many came to see him as a modern Moses, he always challenged churches and colleagues to take advantage of every single opportunity in order for social change to happen."
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