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MLK Jr. Observance Day goes on despite COVID-19
Rev. Dr. Leo Burns
The Rev. Dr. Leo Burns, grand marshal, speaks during Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Day celebration at the Effingham County Fairgrounds in Springfield. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
I love all my brothers and sisters, and I love them to my heart and I pray for them — even those that don’t care about me.
Rev. Dr. Leo Burns, grand marshal of Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Day

SPRINGFIELD — The spectators were confined to their vehicles because of COVID-19. The contagious disease did nothing to restrain the enthusiasm for the occasion, however.

The parking lot in front of the Effingham County Fairgrounds was filled with cars and trucks loaded with people who joyously celebrated the 30th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Day. Each speakers’ words were occasionally interrupted by the honking of horns.

The Rev. Lon Harden of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church served as the master of ceremonies. During his opening remarks, he said, “Just remember our theme for today: Moving forward to encourage a unified nation. It is so profound in this present-day time in 2021.”

The Rev. Dr. Leo Burns of Union Springs Independent Methodist Church in Clyo was the grand marshal of a parade that wasn’t conducted because of the pandemic. He made it clear that he was honored to have been chosen for the role by the MLK Jr. Observance Day Committee, however.

Burns was introduced by Dr. Franklin Goldwire, the 2020 grand marshal.

“It is an honor that I definitely don’t take lightly because I remember so vividly when they had Dr. King’s funeral. I was seven years old,” Burns said, “and because of the school I went to, I didn’t go to the school that day because of what could have happened. And when I look at today’s time, when we are able to do much more than we did before but — I believe in what King said — we are not there yet.

“We can see that more now than, I guess, even back in the 1960s. There is a divide.”

Burns encouraged the audience to remain non-violent in their pursuit of civil rights and to spread love.

“If you love, you will do better,” he said. “If you love, you won’t hate. If you love, you will stand, so I stand today on the purpose of love.

“I love all my brothers and sisters, and I love them to my heart and I pray for them — even those that don’t care about me.”

 Burns thanked God for Effingham County.

“Because there is a lot of love here,” he said. “There are a lot of places that I haven’t seen it, but I have seen it here. I’ve seen when people care.

“Let that continue to be a light for all communities. Let your light shine so that others can see your good works.”

At the end of the event, Burns was presented a likeness featuring King’s likeness.

After Burns spoke, Father David Rose was presented the 2021 Humanitarian Award by Lula Seabrooks, an MLK Observance Day Committee member.

“He is one that exhibits love and is not about politics,” Seabrooks said. “... He is just one who is everywhere for everyone in Effingham County.”

Rose was caught off guard by the award.

“Again, it’s unexpected,” he said. “I don’t believe I’m doing anything different that what a normal Christian should be doing. Thank you and God bless you all as we move forward together.”

The winners of the annual MLK Jr. Observance Day contests for children were named. They are:

Theme Contest — 1st, Terrien Nicole Edwards; 2nd, Isaac Ancheta; 3rd, Anthony Garvin Jr.

Poster Contest (grades 1-3) — 1st, William Deveaux; 2nd, Charlie Weese; 3rd, Torian Collier

Poster Contest (grades 4-5) — 1st, Saanvi Teju; 2nd, Mikah James; 3rd, Allison Marrero; honorable mention, Dorielle Deveaux

Middle School Essay Contest — 1st, Telah Margaret Edwards; 2nd, Ougust B. Devaux; 3rd, Jacob Garvin

High School Essay Contest — 1st, Julian W. Devaux; 2nd, Alaina Landing; 3rd, Hillary Smith