Pat Gross believes members of the community here can stand in unity the way Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed.
But it’s going to take a change.
“I hear so many people saying we need change,” said Gross, the pastor of Grace Fellowship Ministries who spoke at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast on Monday at the Mack Gaston Community Center in Dalton. “Yes. But in order for change to come, we must change. We must come together and embrace the change rather than complaining.”
King left a legacy for people to follow, she said.
“He was a preacher,” Gross said. “He was a civil rights leader for nonviolence. He stood for every color, every race. It wasn’t just about black people. We get kind of mixed up sometimes. ... God created us equal.”
Gross said it’s important for people to remember to bond together because that’s when there is strength. That means people can’t be jealous or talking badly about each other or to each other.
“There has to be a change,” she said. “And that change begins in us.”
Earlier in the morning, at a ceremony where a wreath was placed on the memorial for King at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Walnut Avenue, Linnette Perez stepped from the small crowd to speak after being moved by words spoken by Pastor Erma Raymond of Bethel AME Church.
“I believe if I can make a difference so can everyone else,” Perez said, adding that when her now 16-year-old son was diagnosed with autism years ago, she received a message from God to make a difference.
“If you have a dream, let it show,” she said. “I believe it’s time for me to fight for what I believe in.”
Raymond thanked God for being part of the civil rights movement. She said King’s dream hasn’t been realized, but is being worked on.
“We believe the war has been won,” Raymond said. “If we open our eyes, we see that there are still battles to fight. No generation is exempt from these battles.”
Raymond called King a prophet of God, whose mission was to work for justice, righteousness and truth. She referred to how blacks were treated before the civil rights movement, how they were required to sit in the back of a bus, not allowed to drink from the same water fountains as whites and could not use the same restrooms as whites.
Raymond praised the late Rosa Parks, a black woman who is famous for not giving up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, which eventually led to a boycott of the bus system in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955-1956.
“America needed a prophet,” Raymond said. “And God sent one.”
Early in the civil rights movement, Raymond noted, King was losing his courage.
“He heard a voice saying to stand up for justice, for righteousness and for truth,” she said.
King heard a simple message from God: “I am with you.”
“King changed the world,” Raymond said. “King believed in nonviolence in a violent world. My challenge to us today, whether you are red, yellow, black or white — all precious in his sight — is to stand up for justice. Stand up for righteousness and stand up for truth.”
Dalton Mayor David Pennington believes this area is re-segregating between economic classes.
“If you don’t get involved, you lose this battle,” he said. “It’s up to the people to get involved, not the government spending money.”
Gross emphasized that change must begin with the leadership of each community and each church.
“God said how can he heal this land when there is division in the leaders,” Gross said. “We’re segregated within ourselves. ... Whether you like somebody or not, you’ve got to love them. We must love God first with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds. Then love thy neighbor as thyself.”
She said God wants to build people up, but everyone keeps tearing each other down.
“We have not overcome,” Gross said. “Allow God to work on them, not you. Our mouths are killing so many churches and so many people. Stop killing people with your mouths.”