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Area leaders assess the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.

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Posted: Monday, January 20, 2014 4:00 am | Updated: 6:35 pm, Mon Jan 20, 2014.

Stepping out of one’s comfort zone and speaking out against racism seen every day are two easy ways to move forward the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., civic leaders said as they looked forward to today’s holiday.

“A way we could change is if we developed relationships outside of our comfort zone ... outside of our box,” said Lamar Jones, pastor of Galilee Baptist Church in Hallsville and chairman of a Martin Luther King Jr. community celebration committee. “If we would work harder to build relationships during positive times, it would help communication during the difficult times.”

Pastors, elected officials and Longview residents said they were grateful for steps taken toward unity in this area and across the nation since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But they agreed there is room to improve.

“I believe that we are seeing true unity moving forward racially, first of all, because we see the walls coming down. We are not where we want to be, but we are moving in the right direction,” said Don Knoop, author of “Christians Building Unity: Our Final Challenge.”

Knoop said unity, racial and otherwise, must be a mindset.

The Rev. Gavin Vaverek of St. Mary’s Catholic Church said regular prayer, specifically among local ministers, is important to promote unity.

“One of the the things that has come out of the MLK celebration particularly is the constant awareness among local clergy of the need of Christian ministers to work together. It is not enough that we come together to pray and promote unity one time a year,” he said.

Saleem Shabazz, a resident affiliated with the Islamic Centre of Longview, said standing up to people who denigrate others not only shows moral courage but helps stem the tide of racism.

“I think we have an obligation to speak up against (racism). By our silence, we are kind of telling the person that it is OK, and I think we need to have moral courage,” Shabazz said. “I think that will go a long ways towards getting rid of some it.”

Shabazz said people sometimes allow language or behavior they would not practice themselves.

Kasha Williams, District 3 councilwoman who spoke at the MLK Humanitarian Awards Ceremony on Saturday, said people should focus on common ground and not their differences.

“One of the things I think we can do is stop allowing barriers to divide us, because I think that we all have more in common than we realize,” she said. “We all want the same thing, I really believe that. There is common ground, and I think it is really relevant now.”

Deitrich Johnson, the city liaison to the committee that helped plan the Longview celebrations, said improvement must come individually as people practice the treatment they would like to receive.

“If you treat each other like you would want to be treated, and truly practice that, then I don’t think we would have to have a special day to focus on unity,” Johnson said.

He added that individuals should reach out to meet and get to know people who are different from them.

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