Vance Honors MLK Jr. at Prayer Breakfast

Courtney B. Vance has excelled in so many roles — as Johnnie Cochran on screen, as Hap Hairston on stage, as a parent and a husband in real life and, early on Thursday, Nov. 2, as the keynote speaker at the annual Community Prayer Breakfast at the Crescenta Cañada YMCA.
At the annual event, which seeks to highlight and raise funds for the YMCA’s Chaplain Services program, Vance delivered an address that weaved together poetry, history, Bible verse and real talk. He asked the 350 members of the audience to ask themselves, “Are we willing to overcome whatever fears we each have and give of our time, our love, our energy, our passions, our service for the glory of almighty God?”
Vance also paid tribute to his parents, introduced his children, Bronwyn and Slater, and explained that his wife, actress Angela Bassett, was working. The La Cañada Flintridge resident thanked YMCA of the Foothills CEO Tyler Wright for “encouraging” his participation.
“We met through a concert series [at La Cañada Presbyterian Church],” said Wright, an outgoing, often self-deprecating personality in the area. “And I asked him if he would entertain the idea of being the keynote speaker at our Prayer Breakfast. And he said, ‘Why are you asking me?’ I said, ‘Because I’m the CEO of the YMCA.’ He said, ‘What! You?’”
That’s true, said Vance, an Emmy Award and Tony Award winner, who joked that knowing Wright meant he knew somebody really important.
On Thursday, the messages were most important, as leaders pastors and reverends representing different denominations prayed for those near and far. Vance spoke of Martin Luther King Jr., who was, at one point, “going along down life’s lane thinking he was going to do one thing, and God had an entirely different path for him in mind.”
Vance outlined King’s biography, describing how a shy boy was inspired to pursue theology because his older sister also had that goal, and he couldn’t bear for her to accomplish it before he did. Vance also spoke of King’s struggle to navigate his father’s broad shadow, his bold educational pursuits, and his epiphany that told him he was destined to become something other than a scholar and a preacher.
“As Rosa Parks sat down and the world stood up, everyone’s lives as they knew it shifted,” Vance said. “MLK went from being the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church to being the leader of the Civil Rights movement, and he had nothing to do with it. He had no hand in it. He didn’t ask for it. He did not seek it. It was thrust upon him.”
It was after King received a phone call threatening him and his family that he realized what his calling was, Vance said.
“It meant him becoming the symbol for people everywhere; it meant he would no longer see his family … it meant he would be subjected to death threats. It meant that he had to sacrifice all of the things he wanted to do with his life for the call of service that God had for him.
“He is great in our eyes, not because he is perfect — Lord knows he was far from it. He is great in our eyes not because he never sinned. He is great in our eyes because he looked at the request that God made of him right in the eye and did not flinch.
“Most of us here will never be forced to deal with the choices that Martin Luther King Jr. had to deal with, but that’s not to say that, day to day, we do not face crises of our own. But again, it is how we deal with the situations we face.”
YMCA Chaplain Lucinda Guarino said she appreciated Vance’s focus on character, which she found ideal for an event supporting the YMCA’s expanding Chaplain Services program, which now features more than 100 trained chaplains available to community members for companionship and assistance.
“Courtney was awesome,” she said. “We are so blessed to have him as our speaker this year.”

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