The former director of the Arkansas Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Commission said Sunday that Pine Bluff is at a crossroads and “”there are tremendous challenges ahead of you.”
Tracy L. Steele, a former state representative who is now the director of the Division of Youth Services for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, was the featured speaker for the 30th Annual Justice Sunday program, sponsored by Interested Citizens for Voter Registration.
The service was held at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, and carried the theme of “Promoting Mentoring, Interracial Cooperation and Community Service.”
Relating a story from the Old Testament about Nehemiah, Steele said he was “one of the best leaders the world has ever known.
“He was at the right hand of the king and had a comfortable life set,” Steele said, going on to say that one day, that comfortable life was upset when Nehemiah learned that the walls of his homeland, Jerusalem, had been torn down.
Steele said the story goes on to say that Nehemiah went to the king and asked for permission to go to his homeland and rebuild the walls. Nehemiah also asked the king to provide the materials to do the work, a request he could make because the two had developed a good relationship with each other.
Steele said that while there is no reference to a good relationship anywhere in the story, “When you work for somebody and they can tell you’re sad, that’s a good relationship It’s important to move forward and do a better job at developing relationships because it has a domino effect.
“It can strengthen whatever you try to do,” Steele said.
Among the challenges Steele said Pine Bluff faces are “a lack of education and a crime issue that is running rampant.
“It’s time to stand up and say, enough is enough,” he said.
Steele went on to say that King didn’t ask to be put in the position of being a leader of the civil rights movement — the position was thrust on him.
“He was a Baptist preacher from Atlanta, Ga., and he got his first church in Montgomery, Ala.,” Steele said, going on to say the church was the site of a meeting where “Rosa Parks decided not to give up her seat on the bus.
“Dr. King was late for the meeting and when he got there, he found out he had been elected president of the group,” Steele said.
Steele said the city has the leadership to “get the job done but there are individuals who don’t want things to change.
“When you start to do good, there are haters on every side,” he said, going on to say that there is an urgency about trying to change the city.
“Dr. King had an urgency about his leadership,” Steele said. “He wanted it all, he wanted it here and he wanted it now.”
Steele went on to say that everyone should commit themselves to do all they can to help improve conditions.
“The time is now,” Steele said.
Other speakers Sunday included Shirley Washington, a member of the ICVR board, who noted that King was 39 years old when he was assassinated.
“We have a responsibility to continue his movement of non-violence,” she said. “One day we can truly say we’re free at last. America has an enormous appetite for violence. This violence must stop.”
The Rev. Gary Bell, pastor of First Assembly of God Church, concluded his prayer at the beginning of the program by saying “May these moments we share together be a catalyst for a better 2014.”