Cape Girardeau community celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.'s memory

Monday, January 17, 2011 | 9:50 a.m. CST; updated 9:56 a.m. CST, Monday, January 17, 2011
Maj. Ben Stillwell, right, listens as the Rev. Eric Ware of House of Prayer pays tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday during the 21st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration at St. James AME Church in Cape Girardeau.

For the Rev. Eric Ware of Cape Girardeau's House of Prayer, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. represents love.

And in a 15-minute tribute to the civil rights activist and minister Sunday at St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church, Ware had a congregation of more than 50 on their feet praising God for the love and change King brought to the country while he lived.

Ware was one of three area ministers who spoke Sunday at the 21st annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration. The event is held each year in an attempt to keep King's dream of equality and freedom alive.

"Dr. King came from a family where love was simply, where love was ever present," Ware said. "We as a people, all races, have to come back to the reality of love."

In addition to Ware's sermon and musical tributes to King by the New Bethel Men's Chorus, the Martin Luther King Jr. City-Wide Celebration Committee presented service awards to two area agencies best fulfilling the dream of Dr. King. Debra Mitchell-Braxton, executive director of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. City-Wide Celebration Committee, presented service awards to Ware and his church and to Major Ben Stillwell, who leads the Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau.

Mitchell-Braxton recognized House of Prayer's outreach ministries and what church staff does to build up entrepreneurship with the young members of the congregation.

"It's so young kids know what it means to run a business," she said.

She also gave the church credit for organizing the annual basketball tournament, Slam-Fest, which raises money for the House of Prayer Educational Youth Domestic Center in Cape Girardeau.

Mitchell-Braxton also completed the work of Stillwell and the organization's many volunteers, who were also recognized, and said they are steadfast in keeping the agency's doors open all year and are host to a range of educational opportunities for teens and other members of the Cape Girardeau community.

"As a minister, this is a pretty big deal," Stillwell said. "I don't deserve this. ... Our silent army of volunteers deserve this."

Before the award presentation, Stillwell spoke in tribute to King, a man he said suffered injustice, but never lost faith. King had a vision of change, Stillwell said, and he changed our country because he was able to keep his honor and his integrity.

"King did his duty to divinity," Stillwell said. "At 57 years of age, I'm proud of the things I lived ... I saw change."

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