The service, part of the National Day of Racial Healing, was planned well before a tweet from the city of Biloxi calling Monday “Great Americans Day” went viral.
But Biloxi Councilman Felix Gines, who was on hand Tuesday at Seashore United Methodist Assembly to read a proclamation from Biloxi in support of the day, said the healing observation came at a perfect time.
The National Day of Racial Healing is recognized by the WK Kellog Foundation as “a response to the broad call for racial healing following the contentious rhetoric, hate crimes and vivid expressions of racism.” It falls one day after the nation remembered the life and work of civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was shot to death April 4, 1968, in Memphis.
“It’s been a long weekend because of a little tweet that got picked up by the media and was recognized all over the United States,” Gines said. “My sister called me last night and said she saw me (Biloxi) in Atlanta and a friend said he had seen us in North Carolina — we made national news.”
But Gines said there was a silver lining to the public relations nightmare for the city, which voted unanimously Monday morning to change an outdated ordinance and officially name the holiday in honor of King.
“I’ve been talking to (Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich) all weekend and things like that happened for a reason,” he said. “The mayor and I just combined the whole weekend and talked continuously and this thing brought us together — it was about racial healing.”
The message of the Tuesday service was clear: All were welcome, regardless of race or religious affiliation.
The healing service included remarks from the Rev. Alice Graham, executive director of Back Bay Mission; spiritual songs; and prayers from several religious backgrounds — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’I Faith and Buddhism.
The Rev. Rachel Benefield-Pffaf said a prayer in honor of the slain civil rights leader.
“On this day we remember the conviction of Martin Luther King Jr. — that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, that it must be demanded by the oppressed,” she said.