The Charles County NAACP branch hosted its 25th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast on Monday at North Point High School in Waldorf, where about 700 residents, community leaders and government officials participated in a “When we fight, we all win, together” themed event to commemorate King’s life and his legacy as a human and civil rights activist.

The event featured several guest speakers including CCNAACP branch president Dyotha Sweat, Bishop George Rodgers III from Lively Stones Ministries Inc. who led the invocation and benediction, House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), the Rev. William Coates from Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church, From the Heart Christian Ministries pastor Michael White who gave the headline address and CCNAACP 1st vice president William Braxton. Musical selections were performed by The Women of Praise, a Southern Maryland-based group of friends that have aimed to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ since 2015.

Sweat spoke first about how the legacy of King’s work requires community members to continue to be vigilant and also hopeful in the pursuit of a brighter future. She said the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 is a great illustration of what can be accomplished when people of all backgrounds fight together to achieve a common goal.

“What I like about the boycott in Montgomery was the people that came and made sacrifices,” said Sweat, eventually urging listeners in the audience to join their local NAACP branch to continue the fight against inequalities that plague surrounding communities. “Dr. King was about love. He was about making sure that everybody had the same opportunity as the next person.”

King was a fearless leader, according to Sweat, who had the courage to face adversity even in the darkest times. Just as King fought with bold determination to gain civil rights, Sweat said the NAACP has always been on the frontline fighting for justice and equal rights for all.

“It’s not an overnight thing,” she said. “We need to do it the right way. And, we need to demand it.”

Hoyer said the prayer breakfast is an environment that reflects the inheritance of the dream King proclaimed at the 1963 March on Washington for all people — despite race, ethnicity or origin — to join as one.

Hoyer said Monday’s celebrations are a reminder that people “must continue to work to achieve Dr. King’s goals of tolerance, equality, peace, justice and opportunity.”

“These are serious times in America,” said Hoyer. “The soul and character of America is in question. ... If it is to be, it is up to us to make a difference: to make our country bold.”

Now that it’s a new year and new decade, Hoyer encouraged his constituents to “follow Dr. King’s example and be better and kinder to one another,” as well as “be bolder in our pursuit of justice and peace.”

“We need to follow Dr. King’s example of putting faith into action every day. That is important now more than any other time in our recent history,” Van Hollen said. “The example of unity. The example of inclusion. The example of peace and his example of love.”

With the division and hate facing the nation today, Van Hollen said America is continually reminded of how much work must be done to realize King’s vision. Citizens must join together as a nation to end the systemic injustice and racial disparities, committing themselves to the principles of freedom, justice and equality for all like King had done.

“There are powerful forces pushing back against the dream,” said Van Hollen. “That means we must push ever harder forward to make that dream come true.”

“My dream is that this November, we get rid of Donald Trump once and for all,” Franchot said. “In Richmond [Virginia] now, there’s a national gathering of hate groups, white supremacists and white nationalists, all drawn there by Trump’s tweet lying about what Virginia is doing to pass common sense gun laws. ... We have until November. There’s more of us than there are of them. Let’s not enable someone [like Trump] ... to destroy the unity of our great country.”

Coates, a Prince George’s County native who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, received a standing ovation and loud cheers after igniting the audience with a powerful rendition of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which was given during the March on Washington in 1963.

White took the stage afterward to give the keynote address, emphasizing the importance of fighting together in order to win equality for all. He explained the symbolism of ‘we,’ what people are fighting against and the ultimate prize once the fight has been won.

“Everyone in the fight must win in order for us to win together,” White said. “Senator Van Hollen said we have powerful forces working against us. ... Those wicked, evil, nasty forces ... are the thoughts in the deepest recesses of our mind.”

“That’s actually what we’re fighting against. It’s our thoughts that are dividing us; not the person that we’re fighting against,” White added. “In order to fight so that all of us can win, we must think correctly. We must renew our mind. We literally have to change the way we think. ... When we fight, everyone’s share is important, necessary and sufficient, no matter the investment.”

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