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MLK observance speaker talks of 'dreams and nightmares'

| Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Dan Speicher | For Valley News Dispatch
Rev. Glenn Grayson, founder of the Center that Cares, and Co-Chair of the Gun Violence Taskforce, gives the keynote address during the Allegheny- Kiski Valley's 47th annual Martin Luther King Jr. memorial service, at Abundant Life Fellowship in Arnold Pa, on Sunday January 26, 2014.
Dan Speicher | For Valley News Dispatch
Diana Pittman of New Kensington, worships with members of churches around the Alle Kiske Valley, as they come together to celebrate the 47th annual Martin Luther King Jr. service, at Abundant Life Fellowship in Arnold Pa, on Sunday January 26, 2014.

The 47th annual Allegheny-Kiski Valley Memorial Service for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in New Kensington on Sunday had moments of woe and optimism.

Its designated speaker, the Rev. Glenn Grayson of Wesley Zion A.M.E. Church in Pittsburgh, personified the ceremony's emotional dichotomy with a speech that focused on “dreams and nightmares.”

Three years removed from his son being fatally shot in Pittsburgh's Hill District, Grayson spoke sullenly about the great divides he sees in America based on race, class and gender — a part of an “American nightmare” that he says disenfranchises the lower class.

But as the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center in the same neighborhood moves closer to its opening dedication, Grayson spoke buoyantly of Martin Luther King Jr.'s work, how far the African-American community has made strides and how it “continues to work toward his dream.”

“It's so important that we honor the legacy of Dr. King and continue to strive toward his vision,” he said. “Almost 50 years later, you would think that his speeches would be somewhat antiquated. Unfortunately, I believe they're still very relevant, and today's youth face a lot of the same challenges as previous generations.”

The Allegheny Valley Association of Churches, which hosts the event at a different Alle-Kiski church each year, uses the annual ceremony as a means of bolstering the youth with a scholarship bearing Dr. King's name.

At the ceremony in Abundant Life Fellowship Church along Kenneth Avenue, the 60 or so attendees contributed about $1,200 to the scholarship fund, according to program chairwoman Aarie Holt-Scruggs. The contributions are added to about $1,600 collected this year through personal and business donations, Holt-Scruggs said.

The fund is used to grant scholarships each year to low-income, mostly minority high school students in the Alle-Kiski Valley that are planning to continue their education with higher learning. Scholarship recipients may attend private or public high schools. Their selected institution of higher learning can be a traditional college or vocational school.

The number of recipients vary each year based on applications received and funds raised, Holt-Scruggs said. Last year, the association of churches granted seven scholarships totaling about $3,500.

The organization is accepting applications and contributions through April, when it names the 2014 winners. Holt-Scruggs said the annual King memorial service is the largest fundraiser of the year and the association typically receives about 15 applications.

The Rev. E. Phillip Wilson, a retired Methodist minister and former director of Highlands Community Action Center, has been involved in the annual scholarship and memorial service since its 1968 inception after the assassination. He said one of the ancillary goals of the program has been to bring Alle-Kiski places of worship together with keynote speakers who embody the principles that King preached.

“When we started this thing in the 1960s, the churches in Westmoreland County seemed like another world from where we were in Allegheny County,” Wilson said. “We wanted to bring everyone together. That's what Dr. King would have liked to see happen.”

The Allegheny Valley Association of Churches has chosen speakers from all types of faiths and backgrounds to promote King's message. Grayson was chosen this year, in part, for his efforts to promote social justice and eradicate youth violence.

The pastor runs a public after-school program in the Hill District and spearheads an anti-gun violence task force in the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network in honor of his late son.

“When we put down the guns and stop the hate in every city, in every state,” Grayson said, “we will be free at last.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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