Civil rights speaker encourages love and acceptance at annual BYU procession honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

By Kayla Franson

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Jan. 21 2013 11:28 p.m. MST

In 2012, a procession moves during an annual walk to honor Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the campus of Brigham Young University.

Jonathan Hardy, BYU

Enlarge photo»

Despite temperatures in the single digits, hundreds gathered at the Carillon Bell Tower on the campus of Brigham Young University to commemorate the life and work of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during an annual candlelight procession Monday evening.

This year’s 50th anniversary of “The Great March on Washington” program began with participants singing “How Great Thou Art” before embarking on a walk across BYU's campus with burning candles. Bundled in scarves, fur hoods and thick mittens, they trekked past speakers with King’s speeches ringing loud and clear.

Many attendees had been to the event in the past. Linda Cole, a Lindon resident, said she and her daughters couldn’t help but come again after their experience last year.

“For me, it was just kind of haunting, the sound of Martin Luther King’s voice echoing all over BYU campus," Cole said. "I thought that was really neat. The candles, the soldiers, the reverence. … It just was a really neat memory.”

Belinda Ramirez, a BYU senior studying anthropology, wanted to participate in the candlelight walk because of her anthropology of race class.

“I thought it would be a nice way to kind of get introduced to what race means,” Ramirez said.

The procession walked from the Carillon Bell Tower to the Wilkinson Student Center, where Cathy Stokes, a native of the South, spoke about love, acceptance and reconciliation.

Stokes, a black member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told a story of when a white man, someone her brother knew, took her by surprise by asking her to speak at her brother’s funeral. She was moved by the act of kindness and respect.

“It was an experience of reconciliation,” she said. “... I think that we are now in a place to look at and examine where we are. Are we in a good place? Are we as far as Martin or others thought we might be?”

She encouraged remembrance of the first two commandments — loving God and loving others — as a way to move forward in unity and care. Her ultimate message: bridling the tide of hatred.

“As citizens of this great country, we have the right to hate whomever we want,” Stokes said. “But as those who have taken on the name of Christ, that is not, or should not, be available to us. We must not surrender to hate by promoting or condoning it, for we claim the privilege of serving our God by serving our fellow beings.”

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