Rev. Darrell L. Armstrong’s impassioned sermon on Martin Luther King Jr. Day spoke not only of equality among people, the value most strongly tied with King’s memory, but also its ultimate purpose: freedom, and our duty to protect it.
“If you’re really going to honor Dr. King’s legacy, stand up,” Armstrong, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton and a member of the College’s Board of Trustees, said.
Incorporating excerpts from King’s famous speeches into his own sermon, Armstrong delivered a powerful message while honoring the memory of King, whom he called “a man many have called the greatest prophet that America has ever produced.”
“He calls us today to be people who pursue truth and stand for truth,” Stephen Briggs, provost of the College, said of King.
Armstrong said that King worked not just so that the oppressed could be equal, but so that all people could become free, to understand each other and embrace the diversity among us.
“The true expression of multiculturalism is knowing what folks believe and why they believe it,” Armstrong said.
He spoke of King’s embrace of nonviolent protest. “The amazing self-respect, refusal to hit back, causes the oppressor to be ashamed of his own actions,” Armstrong said.
Most of all, Armstrong focused on how every person was responsible for creating a better society and challenging any threats to freedom, be it racism or any other sort of oppression.
“If you do not challenge it in the smallness of your community, God will not use you to challenge it in the largeness of humanity,” Armstrong said.
In quoting from King, Armstrong reminded the audience what King stood for, the intrinsic worth of every person and that even if one is free in his mind, he is not truly free until his body is as well.
Armstrong’s speech was accompanied by performances by the Shiloh Baptist Church Ensemble, who sang several pieces before and after Armstrong delivered his keynote speech.
Armstrong received a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Stanford University, where he helped piece together the King Papers Project, which seeks to gather all of King’s writings and sermons into a single series.
He also received a graduate degree in divinity from Princeton Seminary and has studied at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
“As a pastor in the community, it’s my hope to reach out to students of all races on campus to do work off campus,” Armstrong said in an interview after his speech. “As a trustee, it’s my goal to foster a stronger sense of connectedness between (the College) and the community.”
While Armstrong admitted that it might not be possible to truly overcome narrow-mindedness, the memory of King reminds everyone that it is still possible to make a difference.
“Maybe that day (when all have freedom) is relegated to when we go to heaven, but maybe we bring a bit of heaven here,” Armstrong said.