Although he was too young to fully understand the struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bishop Kenneth Wayne Carter said, he finds cause to be thankful and to celebrate.
"Although my 53-year-old body never felt the pressure of a firehose, nor felt the bite of a German shepherd's teeth, nor the sting of a policeman's billy club, I stand here today because of thousands upon thousands of courageous men and women like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," said Bishop Carter, the guest speaker at the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet held at Vanderhorst C.M.E. Church in Thomson on Saturday night.
"Although I enjoy liberties today, these young eyes of mine never thought that the freedoms I enjoy would actually cost," he said. "I thought as a very young man that freedom was just that -- free."
He later discovered that nothing in life is actually free.
"The salvation that I so freely enjoy cost my Savior Jesus his life; standing up for justice cost Dr. King his life; the right to vote cost thousands their lives," said Bishop Carter, who heads the Sixth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, which includes the Augusta area.
"Maybe those examples are too distant for you to understand. If you want to know the cost of freedom, then go to Afghanistan and ask about the price paid for them to have their first democratic election. Ask any Iraqi women about the cost of freedom for her to do something as basic as drive a car. Ask any one of the soldiers from this great country about the cost of freedom."
Many soldiers, he added, have paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
"I don't stand here today with the intent of giving you a litany of events or quotes about Dr. King's life," said Bishop Carter. "I will leave it up to you to read about him. Nor is it my intent to remind you over and over again about America's dark past -- the blood stain of history records America's guilt and pain."
Instead, he reminded those listening that Dr. King risked his life to combat social injustices and to enhance the welfare of others.
"Although pieces of his dream, like the election of our first African-American president, has become a reality, if the truth be told, the 21st century continues to be a challenging time," said Bishop Carter. "The old Negro spiritual, say, We Shall Overcome Someday . Well, I'm waiting on that someday that I can send my child or grandchild to school and not have to worry about whether another child is being taught to be a racist at home. I'm waiting on that someday that I don't have to worry about whether or not my children will be shot because they are Christians or because they are not of the right ethnicity.
"No matter how much I try to protect their young minds, eyes and ears, they still witness on a daily basis in the year of our Lord, 2011, mind you, just how nasty some Americans can be. You see, our work is not done."
The century also is challenging because millions of Americans continue to live in poverty, he said.
"It is also challenging because educational opportunities are still not equal and accessible for many in America," said Bishop Carter. "Today, millions of people do not have access to adequate health care and they are still mistreated, physically assaulted and denied opportunities based on their race and religion."
Bishop Carter said that Dr. King once said: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others."
Continuing, Bishop Carter said, "So the question that I have for each of you is: What are you going to do to address the challenges we still experience as it relates to human rights today -- not just in this country, but also around the world?"
In his closing remarks, the bishop said he had come to tell all there that they have a responsibility.
"Making a difference will require action on your part," said Bishop Carter. "It is your responsibility to live the dream of Dr. King -- not just in words, but in action. Not just in talk, but in your daily walk. The sacred mission to save America was not just for Dr. King, but also with each one of us. If America is going to continue to prosper, it is going to take the efforts of countless everyday people like you and me and many others whose names we will never know who decide that they cannot sit around idle and allow the cup of injustice, suffering and pain to spill over any longer."
Dr. King's dream could become an afterthought, "if all we do is leave here and simply check the box as having come, go home and do nothing to make this country a better place."