ELKINS - The keynote speaker at Sunday's Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in Elkins said West Virginians need to stand up for their rights, whether it be against oppressors, the government - or chemical companies.
"Right now in Charleston, we have children, pregnant mothers and the elderly drinking and bathing in poison," speaker Sheila Coleman-Castells said at the Old Brick Playhouse. "The change and the prevention starts here. We need to tell the world that we are able people.
"We are not ignorant and stupid. We need to stop investing in being downtrodden. We are told we must make do with less. We have to come together and know that when we do something, it is going to work."
The Inter-Mountain photo by Chad Clem
Sheila Coleman-Castells, fourth from the left, leads a group of residents down Fourth Street as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in Elkins on Sunday afternoon. Coleman-Castells also spoke about how King’s legacy affects West Virginians today.
Coleman-Castells is a native of Washington D.C. and has worked with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in the development of green jobs for West Virginia workers, among many other educational research and training positions. She has taught at the University of Virginia, George Washington University, the University of Maryland and West Virginia University. She currently resides in Eglon.
Coleman-Castells called for "small viable changes that can be measured locally in Elkins." She also spoke of the impact that King's legacy has had in her lifetime.
"I'm not afraid of the Ku Klux Klan because of Dr. King," she said. "I am not afraid to fight for my right to vote, because of Dr. King. We should never tolerate being told we can't do something. We are on the verge of a new economy, and knowledge is our currency."
Coleman-Castells said that had King been alive today he would have "had another 30-50 years of growing and leadership," but "was never given the chance." She explained that King had a platform that not only included standing up to racial and social injustice, but also environmental injustice, a cause that Coleman-Castells says King would likely be championing today.
"If you look back at his work, his writings reflect an environmental platform," she said. "But due to his untimely death he was never able to redeem it"
She also talked about her connection with West Virginia and its citizens.
"I consider myself a new Appalachian," she told The Inter-Mountain after the ceremony. "I moved here because I love it. I see something in this land and these people that I really feel a part of."
Sunday's ceremony began with a group of local residents braving the cold to gather at the Randolph County Community Arts Center in preparation for a walk to commemmorate King's legacy.
At around 4:15 p.m., the group walked down Fourth Street toward the Old Brick Playhouse on Davis Avenue, singing spirituals and hymns while talking about King's accomplishments. The celebration was sponsored by the Cultural Awareness & Enrichment Group of Elkins
The program inside the Old Brick Playhouse included songs by local folklorists and recording artists Michael and Carrie Kline, and a youth dance ensemble choreographed by Davis & Elkins College dance instructor Laurie Goux.
Excerpts of King's speeches were also played. The program ended with the Klines leading everyone in a song circle and singing, "Teach peace and people will find a way." A potluck dinner served in the lobby was open to the public.
Elkins Mayor Van Broughton was present and weighed in on the celebration.
"It's great to see the community coming together this afternoon and honoring Martin Luther King," he said. "I am proud to participate and see his legacy live on."
Broughton said King "set an example of courage, determination and self-sacrifice that we can all learn from.
"Today is a good day for us to reflect on his example and think about what we can do to help our communities," said Broughton.
The celebration of King's legacy will continue this evening as a service with a service at 7 p.m. at the chapel on the campus of Davis & Elkins College.
Contact Chad Clem by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.