Staff photo by Tim Barber/ The singing group Visions, led by Ida E. Johnson, right, performs a spirited song, "I Am Blessed," Saturday morning during the Rev. Dr. Marktin Luther King Jr. Celebration Prayer Breakfast at the Greater Tucker Baptist Church in Brainerd. Singer's from left are, Tara Daniels, D'Toria Elder, Enoushall Kilgore Kristina Elder and Johnson.

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Civil rights leader challenges Chattanooga

On a morning also filled with prayer and song, more than a hundred people gathered at Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist Church to listen to a leading civil rights activist outline what she called the difficult but necessary work for justice.

Catherine Meeks, executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta, encouraged the audience to go beyond what is comfortable and push for justice always, not just when it is convenient.

"What is required is that we do the work, the internal work and the external work, that brings us to a place of liberation, that makes it possible for us to be together, black and white and brown, really respecting one another and really seeing the face of God in every person and understanding that every human being is an equal human being on this planet," Meeks said.

Many people preach ideas of unity and love, but those concepts are not seen in our actions. No matter what people say, how they act and how the country acts is more telling, Meeks said. As a society, people need to do the internal work of recognizing their own complicity in white supremacy or their internalized oppression, she said.

READ MORE: Chattanooga leaders emphasize mirroring Martin Luther King's mission on 50th anniversary of celebration week

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Remaining MLK Week events:

Sunday, Jan. 19. 4 p.m. “Gospel Music Extravaganza.” Greater Tucker Baptist Church, 1115 N Moore Road. Facilitator: Willie McClendon.

Monday, Jan 20, 1 p.m. “50th Annual Memorial March.” Lineup at noon on Georgia Avenue in front of the federal court building.

Monday, Jan. 20, 5 p.m. “Unity Group Past, Present and Future.” Orchard Knob Missionary Church, 1734 East 3rd St. Panelists: Paul McDaniel, Tommie Brown, Johnny Holloway, JoAnne Favors, Leamon Pierce, Sherman Matthews.

Meeks' visit was part of the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations hosted by the Unity Group. The Saturday morning prayer breakfast was part of a week of activities that included panel discussions and worship services, as well as the upcoming march on Monday afternoon. The Unity Group was formed 50 years ago to empower African Americans in Chattanooga.

Echoing an idea from King, Meeks said everyone has a duty to resist oppression. She said she typically does not speak at MLK Day events because people have romanticized the leader of the Civil Rights Movement and the celebrations around his holiday are not a replacement for doing the work of liberation.

Fighting for justice or thinking about racism cannot be a one-day event, Meeks said.

"You don't get to be a liberator one day and taking a break the next day," she said.

Meeks told the audience to be open to new ideas and tactics in the movement for racial equity. The mission of liberation will not change, but how people are engaging and leading should, she said.

Sherman Matthews, chair of the Unity Group, said Meeks delivered a challenging but meaningful message. He encouraged people to participate in the remaining MLK Week events, including the march on Monday afternoon and the town hall that evening featuring local civil rights leaders.

Contact Wyatt Massey at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.