- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

Samuel Elijah Jackson III, whose doctors recently told him that the disease destroying his liver will claim his life soon, came to the Central Union Mission yesterday to celebrate the life of a man who gives him strength — Martin Luther King.

“He was a man that suffered a lot and gave a lot,” said Mr. Jackson, 59, who was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. “But he asked for so little in return … his life was an inspiration to a lot of people.”

Mr. Jackson, who is wheelchair-bound, was one of about 100 homeless people who gathered at the mission in Northwest to remember King’s life and work. The celebration, which is in its eighth year, featured speakers from the mission and local churches who shared their memories of the civil rights leader.

The event’s high point came when the Rev. Jeffrey Johnson of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Fairfax recited King’s impassioned “I Have a Dream” speech.

More than four decades after King gave the speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, those who attended the celebration at the mission yesterday said they were still moved by his powerful words.

“That speech applies 40 years later just like it did in 1963,” said David Treadwell, executive director of the Central Union Mission. “The idea of helping those who are hurting still rings true today.”

Mr. Treadwell said he remembers seeing King in handcuffs outside a courthouse in Decatur, Ga., in 1960. He saw King again a few years later at the Chicago Sunday Evening Club.

“His message was not just for the African-American community,” Mr. Treadwell said yesterday. “I was a young, white Southerner — his message was for me.”

The mission, located at 1350 R Street NW, provides beds for more than 80 men each night, and reaches hundreds more of the city’s homeless through ministry programs.

Many of the shelter’s regular residents attended yesterday’s program, which included a hot meal, as did dozens of others who wanted to volunteer or celebrate the holiday.

John Ellison, who used to work in landscaping and architecture on Capitol Hill, said he attended the program with a friend to hear the “I Have a Dream” speech again.

Mr. Ellison, 67, said he felt “resentful” after hearing about King’s assassination in 1968, but that King’s message of progress through nonviolence struck a nerve.

“You can accomplish a lot more with peace than with violence,” said Mr. Ellison, who lives in Northeast. “If we had fought back, maybe we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Mr. Jackson is seared by memories of racism and segregation during his childhood in Alabama and Mississippi.

“I lived through the signs on the doors, the burning crosses … It was best to be inside the house when it got dark,” he said.

Tim Buie, 38, stayed at the shelter Sunday night. He said hearing the “I Have a Dream” speech again yesterday served as motivation for him.

“It’s always good to be reminded of where you come from,” he said. “It gives you a better idea of where you’re trying to go.”

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