By Maria Saporta
Gov. Nathan Deal had long gone from Ebenezer Baptist Church during Monday’s 46th Martin Luther King Jr.’s Annual Commemorative Service when Senior Pastor Raphael Warnock shared his message.
But had he stayed, perhaps the governor might have gained some insights about what really matters to King’s followers.
Deal was one of the earlier speakers during the three-and-a-half hour service, and it is not surprising that he couldn’t stay for the entire program.
The governor did hear a passionate plea from King’s youngest child — Bernice A. King — who is CEO of the King Center.
She spoke of a nation in a state of darkness and confusion. “Where there is no vision, the people will perish,” King said, adding that her father warned of a nation that spends more on its military than lifting up its people; of a nation struggling with racism, poverty and materialism.
“But I have good news today,” King said. “At the beginning of each year, we have the Martin Luther King holiday. He serves as our measuring rod” of how our society is living up to King’s promise. “We are here today to deliver the vision of my father and my mother.”
When Deal, who is running for re-election this year, stood at the pulpit, he spoke of Dr. King as a man of God who was a man of action.
“I think it’s time for Georgia’s leaders to follow in Dr. King’s footsteps and take action too,” Deal said. “Not many states can boast a native son who has merited a national holiday. But we Georgians can. Dr. King lived during a time when the law required discrimination against some of our citizens. That’s why, working with the General Assembly in this 2014 session, I’m committed to finding an appropriate way to honor Dr. King on Capitol Hill.”
Deal ended his talk by quoting Dr. King. “The time is always right to do what’s right.” The he added: “Well, I think we’re doing what’s right… I appreciate your partnership in this quest for justice, and I appreciate the chance today to celebrate the life and legacy of a proud son of Georgia, who stands tall as one of the greatest Americans to ever live.
Deal’s message was warmly received. But the energy level in the church reached a fever pitch when Warnock delivered his message.
Warnock spoke of wealth inequality — that 1 percent of the U.S. population owns 40 percent of the wealth. “Wealth is trickling up, not trickling down. Trickle down economics is tricky economics,” he said.
When people talk about the inequality of wealth, Warnock urged members of the U.S. Congress to push for the passage for a higher minimum wage and to extend the unemployment insurance. It also is vital for everyone to have access to affordable health care.
“Let’s say to our governor: ‘Expand Medicaid.’” Warnock said to a long standing applause. “There’s no good reason to not expand Medicaid. Georgia has the fifth highest number of uninsured people.”
Then as though he were talking to the governor himself, Warnock said: “Glad we are going to honor Dr. King. Let’s build a monument, but the monument ought to inspire us to build a better world… If you really want to believe in Dr. King, we have got to help poor people.”
And dispelling myths about poor people not wanting to work, Warnock spoke about how his parents didn’t make enough money to cover the costs for him to attend Morehouse College. But God had faith. And Warnock was able to get a federal Pell grant that paid for his college education.
“The Pell grant was an investment in me,” Warnock said, adding that without the grant, he probably would never become the senior pastor of Ebenezer.
The nation also has to quit warehousing its people in prisons — now 2 million people in the country. Today there are more people in the prison system and under legal supervision than there were slaves during the time of slavery.