The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration that took place at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark Thursday night was not only a celebration of the civil rights leader, but a worship service led by two dynamic gospel music stars and a highly accomplished pastor. Three extraordinary women were also honored for following in King’s footsteps and changing their communities for the better.
Richard Smallwood: ‘Anybody Can Serve’
Gospel Music Hall of Fame artist Richard Smallwood told UrbanFaith that Dr. King was “a prime example” of someone who devoted his life to the service and blessing of others.
Noting King’s statement that “everybody can be great… because anybody can serve,” Smallwood said, “It’s not about your name in lights …or how many houses you have, how many cars you have, but who are you helping, where you are making a difference? That part of him always gets my heart.”
Smallwood grew up with at least one intimate model of selflessness, in the person of his mother. She died in 2005, but encouraged her only child to study classical music and worked overtime so he could attend Howard University.
“She really was my biggest cheerleader. So it was very difficult when she transitioned,” said Smallwood, who didn’t write music for four years after she died.
In 2004, Smallwood completed a Master of Divinity degree at Howard out of a sense of calling from God.
“People said, ‘We know you’re going to preach.’ And I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no! I don’t want to do that.’ It finally got to the point where I knew that that was a part of my calling. It was something I was going to have to do, because it was what I was born to do,” said Smallwood.
“I was nervous because I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve been in music all my life. I’m going to have to do papers, and a lot of reading, and stuff like that. It wasn’t easy, but it was a joy, because I had to do a lot of stuff in hotel rooms when I was traveling, in airports, writing papers and sending them back home to my professors. But it was a great experience,” the ordained Baptist minister explained.
Like King, who said he didn’t want to be remembered for his awards, but for his life of service, Smallwood wants to be remembered for the gifts he has bestowed on others.
“My prayer has always been that my music is what people will remember a long, long, long time after I’m gone … because I’ve seen how God can use gifts and really make a difference in people’s lives.”
Tye Tribbett: ‘Stand Up and Make a Change’
Gospel artist Tye Tribbett grew up in Camden, New Jersey, where he said he led a “very sheltered” life as the son of strict Apostolic Pentecostal pastors. Even so, he couldn’t help but see the rougher side of life in his city.
“Some of the stereotypes that are on Camden, we have to take the blame. We caused a lot of [people] to have that perspective on us. But a lot of us now are also taking the initiative to turn that whole thing around,” said Tribbett.
“I think that’s what Martin Luther King’s birthday is all about: somebody being frustrated enough to stand up and make a change, and voice that we don’t have to stay this way. We don’t have to. I think that’s what Martin Luther King did against all odds. He stood up, not only felt it, not only thought it, but spoke it,” he added.
Six months ago, Tribbett and his wife Shante′ started The Word on the Street, a Bible study that meets at a public school in Camden. Three hundred people gather, Tribbett said, with a vision for turning the city around.
“We’re right in line with the dream that [King] had years ago,” said Tribbett.
“It’s not the normal Bible study,” he explained. “We’re taking a different approach, a fresh approach, because I believe right information creates right believing, and right believing creates right living. Or better, better information, better believing, better living.”
Tribbett knows something about the power of belief. After a particularly challenging time in his marriage that was brought on by his infidelity, he battled suicidal thoughts.
“I felt very guilty and ashamed, so when I started feeling and sensing voices, quote unquote, of suicide, it actually scared me. So I ran to the shelter of mentors,” said Tribbett.
He confessed his suicidal thoughts to them and said there were times when they didn’t leave him alone.
“A lot of young people today who are committing suicide because of bullying and all that kind of crazy stuff, I don’t think they have mentors,” said Tribbett. “I don’t think we have leadership. I don’t think we’re accountable to anybody, so we’re left to our own thoughts, and we’re left to whatever we feel. So I think it’s wise for young people, and older people, just to find somebody to be accountable to, to submit under somebody so they can bring you in when you’re way out there.”
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