MLK Day: Patterson man talks about his dream
A nervous featured speaker, Travis Ray, told over 100 people at Hope Baptist Church Monday morning that Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man of integrity, worthy of the title “hero,” who helped birth the civil rights movement and made it possible for today’s youth to attain whatever their dreams are, if God is kept first.
But, if he thought his first public speech was over after he led the group in an impromptu singing of “How Great Is Our God,” Patterson’s first black mayor, Rodney Grogan, stepped up to disabuse him of that notion.
“You were chosen to be the speaker because of your dream and what you had to do to accomplish your dream,” the mayor said with the escalating emotion of a black Baptist church sermon. “You have a child in college, another child with a master’s degree and a son that is a teacher … I want these young people to see that they should not let anyone tell them they cannot reach their dream.”
With the congregation standing and insisting on more, Ray departed from his notes, resumed his speech and told an impassioned story that had scores on their feet clapping. His story was about how King’s dream helped make black Americans able to pursue any of their dreams to fruition.
“Let me tell you the things I went through to get to where I am,” Ray, who is a lawn service contractor, said to the delight of the congregation.
After losing his job when Marine Shale closed, Ray, 46, went to the Young Memorial campus of South Central Louisiana Technical College in 1996 to be a welder. While going to school he decided to make some money cutting grass, even though he did not own a lawn mower.
“I had to borrow my uncle’s lawnmower,” he said. Then he picked up other lawn jobs. Using his technical college training, Ray took a welder’s job working from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and would cut grass after working his shift, he said. He would even leave on his lunch break and cut grass.
Eventually he had enough customers to quit his job and start his own company. No longer does he load a borrowed lawnmower “into a raggedy Toyota pickup truck,” he said. He now has hired other men, purchased several riding lawnmowers and three trucks.
“But this is not about me,” Ray said. “If it wasn’t for Dr. King, there probably wouldn’t be no me.”
Ray said King dreamed of a time when there was only one race, the human race. He said much progress has been made to realize that dream, but work still remains to be done. Part of that dream involved defeating hate with love, Ray said.
“I would like the kids to know that anything y’all put your minds to do can be done if y’all keep God first,” he concluded.
The program was as much spiritual and worship as it was a remembrance of King. The secular and religious themes were intertwined in a message of hope and responsibility throughout the program.
Teenager, Holden Murray, said Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day of service as it commemorates the dream that “transcended time, religion, social class, but most important transcended hate.”
After the program, put on by the Patterson Civic Organization, concluded, the congregation was invited to join in a march through the city in remembrance of the many marches King led during the ‘50s and ‘60s throughout the South demanding an end to discrimination and Jim Crow laws.
The program began with the singing of the hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which itself says it is a “song full of faith that the dark past has taught us … full of hope that the present has brought us.”
It concluded with the spiritual upon which King’s most famous speech is based, “We Shall Overcome” with the congregation singing, “We shall overcome someday … We’ll walk hand in hand someday … We shall live in peace someday.”
Patterson Police Chief Patrick LaSalle attended the event along with council members Larry Mendoza, Joe Russo, Sandra Turner and John Rentrop.