LIMA — If a 14-year-old “negro” boy in 1940 was able to find his voice and make a difference in the world, others can too, according to rising national inspirational speaker Stephanie Cunningham.
During the 23rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Monday at Veterans Memorial Civic Center, Cunningham told a story about a 14-year-old boy who was preparing for his first public speaking event — a high school debate. When the day came, he performed so well that he mesmerized the crowd. The crowd knew that he had won, but to their surprise he had lost to a white peer, whom they believed did not perform as well as he did.
The young man was devastated and when he got home, instead of being cheered up from his mother, she made a comment that would stick with him for the rest of his life.
“‘Son you’re not going to change the world; you’re just a little negro boy,” said Cunningham. “She spoke those words not to tear him down. She spoke those words to shield him from heartbreak. She spoke those words in order to protect him from a country where they pinned the words ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equally’.”
Cunningham then asked the crowd to reflect on how many times they had doubted themselves or doubted others. Those thoughts, she said, start as a child and people begin to believe it as they grow into adults.
“No one is going to believe me; I’m just a little kid,” she said. “Why should I speak out? I’m just a woman. I’m not going to change a thing. I’m just another worker on this assembly line. But I traveled 72 miles in the ice and snow to tell you that there is power in your voice.”
When people feel like the odds are against them, they should remember to believe in themselves and know that, as long as they believe in God, the odds will always be in their favor, according to Cunningham.
“You have to use the power of your voice to begin to speak things like, ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength’,” she said.
She also challenged the crowd to be courageous and to speak out against things that were wrong, even when they felt uncomfortable.
“We cannot allow fear to stop us from standing up against the drug dealers who are selling drugs to our babies,” she said. “We cannot allow fear to stop us from standing up to racists who aim to tear this country down. We cannot be too scared to discipline the children in our community when we see that they are headed in the wrong direction.”
As for the 14 year-old “negro” who lost his first speech debate, he went on to receive the Nobel Piece Prize for his advocacy and work in the community. He became such a remarkable man that the government issued a holiday dedicated to celebrating his life: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
On the day King received the Nobel Prize, his mother recited a speech in which she reflected on the conversation she had with her son the day he lost the debate. According to Cunningham, Mrs. King said to the crowd, “But look — one person can make a difference; one voice can change the world.”
“That’s why we are all here today,” said Cunningham. “Go out, use your voice, and go change the world.”
Reach Camri Nelson at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @CamriNews.