A pair of Lebanon clergy members fittingly delivered speeches aimed at community change and improvement during Saturday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March and Brunch event at Pickett Rucker United Methodist Church. 

The annual event honors Lebanon sanitation workers, in connection with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which honors the slain Civil Rights Movement leader killed in Memphis in 1968.

Raymond Burns, pastor of Baird’s Grove Missionary Baptist Church, and Greg Milford, pastor of Cedars of Lebanon Primitive Baptist Church, invoked the spirit of King in their speeches focused on returning the community to better days, particularly days not plagued with extreme negativity in several aspects. 

Burns said was raised in Lebanon, and said he believed the values that were prevalent during his upbringing have greatly diminished throughout the community. 

“Everything Martin Luther King Jr. did was good. He was a forerunner of the integration movement. But in the midst and the end of the integration movement, we lost something. We lost our community. We lost our identity,” he said. 

Burns said the absence of the presence of God has created hardships in the community and led people to become lost, partially because of the lost feeling of a village-based upbringing. 

“You need to know who you are. You need to know where you came from. You need to know what unity is. It does take a village to raise a child,” he said. “When I was younger, the news got home before I did and they didn’t even have a telephone.”

Burns also called for understanding among all races and different groups of people. 

“Until we — as a united front of people — come together the right way, without the hatred that we have for each, the completion we have of each other, but being understood as a people together, we cannot overcome,” he said. 

Milford said the ongoing drug epidemic in Lebanon and surrounding areas has greatly affected his congregation and several others in the area. 

“There is a scourge on the city of Lebanon. It’s called fentanyl. In 2016, I was affected by 16 deaths in my church alone — indirectly or directly,” Milford said. “Yet, we’re quiet and a whole generation of young people in this city have been wiped out. It’s time to stop talking and start walking.”

Milford challenged the community to reverse the trend and find a way to save lives. 

“Our mindset should be, ‘We got to do something about this.’ I don’t care what color you are. It affects white, black, green yellow. It affects everyone and it’s a dramatic waste of life when someone can take a pill and not wake up,” he said. 

The event also featured the annual Unity March, which was conducted as a motorcade because of rainy weather conditions, as well as speeches from Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash and Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto.

The event also highlighted former Cedars of Lebanon Baptist Church pastor Elder Brewer Hall, who started the Martin Luther King Task Force and the annual march in his memory.

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