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Community: Virtual celebration honors King, community

Community: Virtual celebration honors King, community

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The Montgomery County-Radford City-Floyd County Branch of the NAACP hosted the area’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration on Jan. 17 as a virtual event. One hundred and fifteen individuals or households had their computers tuned in to the celebration.

Following a welcome by Mistress of Ceremonies Karen Jones, and an invocation by Rev. Ryan Schaeffer of Asbury United Methodist Church, the celebration opened with James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Branch officers were elected recently for 2021-2022: Deborah H. Travis, president; Dr. William H. Hendricks, 1st vice president; Terry Goodson, secretary; Dr. Jill Stewart, treasurer; Allen W. Palmer, assistant treasurer; and four executive committee members-at-large: Shirley Akers, Gunin Kiran, Rev. Marlin Reeves and Rev. Michael Sanborn. Da’Quan Love, executive director of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, was on hand to install the officers.

The annual Branch Community Service Awards in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went to Judith B. Diggs of Christiansburg, and Benzena L. Eaves of the Wake Forest community near Blacksburg.

Diggs has been an active lifelong member of Asbury United Methodist Church, and is a Silver Life Member of the NAACP, and has held leadership positions in both organizations. Children are her passion. Diggs has worked for the Montgomery County Schools for over 36 years, as a special education teacher and a speech specialist, as director of student services for several years, and currently as director of equity and diversity, where she works to provide a more inclusive environment in the school system and provide equity in the educational achievement process.

Diggs has lived the philosophy that “It takes a village to raise a child.” Not only has she provided special attention to students’ needs through the school system, but for many years she has welcomed children into her home where she mentored them, fed them and provided guidance to assure they stayed on the right path. She sometimes had to “set them straight” when needed, with a firm voice but a soft heart, and many called her “Mama Diggs” for the love she provided. A lifelong resident of Christiansburg, Diggs and her husband Jason have two children and two grandchildren.

Eaves is a devoted member of the New Pentecostal United Holy Church in Wake Forest, where she has organized fundraising for renovations and community assistance. Her efforts have extended beyond her own community to benefit churches and individuals in adjacent states as well. Eaves and her late husband started Eaves Affordable Homes, through which for many years houses were purchased, renovated and sold, providing not only affordable housing for residents but also equity income to assist in the community.

Eaves has a 44-year career with Volvo in Dublin, working as a quality inspector and as a customer relations liaison. As a leader in the United Auto Workers Union she has advocated for equal pay for women and helped assist women to build their credit, which would enable them to purchase homes and acquire loans.

Eaves has long been a member of this branch of the NAACP and has served on the housing committee as well as serving as a member-at-large on the executive committee. She is the proud mother of three daughters and six grandchildren.

The branch also recognized Allen W. Palmer with a special service award for his 15 years as treasurer. Palmer also functions as treasurer for his church and for numerous other community organizations.

The Youth Council nurtures the next generation of leaders and advocates through cultural education and service projects. President Tyler Graves, a sophomore at Blacksburg High School, brought greetings from the youth and recited June Jordan’s poem “In Memoriam: Martin Luther King Jr.”

The branch’s Samuel H. Clark Memorial Scholarship Fund provides up to five scholarships of $1,000 apiece to local youth involved in the NAACP who extend their education beyond high school at a college or technical school. The 2020 scholarship winners were: Allison Foster, Christiansburg HS, attending Radford University; Gabrielle Pascoe, Atlee HS, attending Christopher Newport University; Alia Saunders, Radford HS, attending New River Community College; and Amara Wingo, Patrick Henry HS, attending Radford University. Dozens of local youth have been supported in this way through the years, and donations are always welcome.

Jonathan Holmes composed and performed a keyboard piece, “The Time is Always Right to Do Right,” in honor of Dr. King. Holmes ended his performance by reminding those gathered to “keep fighting to do right.”

Executive Committee Member-at-Large Shirley Akers introduced the keynote speaker, Rev. Jefferson Jones. Three years ago, Rev. Jones started Surge: A Worship Experience for College Students & Young Professionals. More recently he has begun an online ministry: Race and Grace. He also serves as co-chair of the branch’s religious affairs committee and also chairs our Young Adult group.

Rev. Jones took as the title for his talk “The Strength to Love,” which is also the title of one of King’s most famous sermons. He began by recalling the yearlong litany of events that threatened to sap our strength: the deaths of many young Blacks at the hands of law enforcement; the COVID-19 pandemic with its disproportionate impact on minority communities; the deaths of significant figures in the Black community, such as athlete Kobe Bryant, mathematician Katherine Johnson, Congressman John Lewis and actor Chadwick Boseman; and unprecedented political polarization, culminating in the terrorist attack on the Capitol building and the Congress on Jan. 6. Jones used boxing terminology to call this past year a “hard punch to the liver.” In light of all this, Jones wondered how do we have the strength to love?

According to Jones, the strength to love requires five things: self-care, a soft heart, the willingness to go into unfamiliar territory and have hard conversations, courageous action and the ability to love our enemies. Jones called on those gathered to be disciplined nonconformists committed to justice, peace and brotherhood.

Branch President Deborah H. Travis thanked the speaker for his vision and encouragement, and closed with a final quotation from Dr. King: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” She urged those gathered to follow King’s example and continue the work of advocating for justice for all.

The General Body meetings of the local NAACP are on the fourth Sunday of each month. Regular membership is $30 per year. E-mail for a link to our virtual meetings. All are welcome! You can learn more about the Montgomery County-Radford City-Floyd County NAACP Branch #7092 at or

Submitted by James C. Klagge

Submitted by James C. Klagge

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