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Jan. 18—Edward Hoggs, pastor of Dalton's Shiloh Baptist Church, gave the keynote address at a special Martin Luther King Jr. Day presentation at the Mack Gaston Community Center on Monday, Jan. 15.
"We have this opportunity to reflect on the life of one that has made such a tremendous difference in the lives of many across racial lines," he began his presentation. "This is the day we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — it is an important pause of reflection, not just for African Americans but for all Americans."
Simply put, Hoggs said that the annual observance is a reminder that everyone has a right to equality, peace and opportunity.
"We come into this holiday understanding that people of most races have had their struggles," he said. "Citizens like Native Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Irish Americans and others ... Jews, Indians, South African, Aboriginal or First Nations people."
Such struggles persist, he said, as evident by the ongoing modern day conflicts in places like Ukraine.
"Dr. King stated, and I quote, 'We may have all come on different ships but we're all in the same boat now,'" Hoggs said. "At some point, all movements for the rights of all people began to be interconnected because sooner or later, it goes back to what I'm sure everyone heard your grandparents teach you — do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
The struggle for African American equality, Hoggs said, has a fairly unique historical context.
"For it is woven throughout the life of this country," he said. "Given hope by the Declaration of Independence with 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' ... but yet a decade later, those glimmers of hope were summarily dashed with Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, of the United States Constitution."
That clause legally classified slaves as "three-fifths" of a person in regard to House of Representatives apportionment.
"It signified business as usual," Hoggs said. "The plight of African Americans, the struggles, tend to be a solid barometer for conditions in America — the struggles of African Americans become the headwinds that confirm the sincerity of American goodwill throughout the world. Because charity, or love, always begins at home."
The annual observance, Hoggs said, is a day for gratitude and thankfulness.
"That we would no longer be judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character," he said. "We're grateful that we serve a God that hears and answers our prayers ... every day, we get up, he is presenting us with the gift of life."
Without gratitude, Hoggs said individuals run the risk of missing out on opportunities.
"Being ungrateful will narrow our focus in life, it's like putting blinders on," he said, "and when that happens, we begin to miss things."
2024 marks the 38th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day's first observance as a federal holiday.
"It's a time where we're able to reflect not just on Dr. King, but on all of these women and men of different races who have presented us all — regardless of color — with the gift of better balance and better equality," he said. "With his life, Dr. King presented to the world a gift — and the question I have for all of us is what are we doing with this gift?"
Hoggs reflected on the pivotal role King played in the formation of several landmark federal laws.
"His actions were essential to the civil rights amendment that was passed in 1964 ... a gift that opened the door for all races going to the same schools and having the same rights of education," Hoggs said. "His actions were essential to the voting rights of 1965, where the opportunity to vote our prayerful conscience was given ... it included the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that removed restrictions on where one could live."
More than half a century later, Hoggs said he believes those "gifts" are more accessible than ever.
But he also said he believes that more work is to be done.
"Are we taking full advantage of the gifts, are we diligently maximizing these great blessings?" Hoggs said. "All it takes is a little bit more effort, a little bit more discipline and time to plan and prepare that we can execute at higher levels — that, for me, is what the blessing of the Martin Luther King holiday brought for me."
Hoggs referenced the Bible verse Matthew 19:26, which declares that all things are possible through God.
He reminded the event attendees that those promises don't come with a color barrier.
"If you really thank Jesus for what he did, then there is no doubt that we will have the drive, we will have the consciousness of thought to maximize what God has given us," he said. "And in this level of gift maximizing, I have faith that it will lead our nation to the place that Dr. King stated — in some not too distant tomorrow, the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation, with all their scintillating beauty."