The Derry cleric behind this weekend’s historic visit to the city by Martin Luther King III is urging the public to “leap hurdles” for the sake of peace.
Rev. David Latimer, of First Derry Presbyterian Church, says this Sunday’s Bright Brand New Day celebrations at Guildhall Square (5 p.m.) are a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for people to “make a real difference”.
He told the ‘Journal’: “This Sunday’s citywide event is for everyone. It is free of charge and there are no tickets. Everyone is invited to turn up and be part of a new story that is being written.”
As part of Sunday’s events, the eldest son of assassinated US civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jnr., will be in the city for the unveiling of a peace flame monument - the first of its kind in Ireland.
The event will also feature kids from both traditions coming together to light the peace flame and present a series of “peace pledges” penned by local school children.
Also on a packed bill for Sunday’s event are Derry songwriter Phil Coulter - who, along with schoolkids, will perform his new anthem for the city, ‘Bright Brand New Day’ - the popular Priests’ singing trio, Best Boy Grip and Ulster Scots Pipes and Drums.
Dr. Latimer, who chairs the Bright Brand New Day peace building initiative, says children are key to the project.
“During the past few months, primary and post-primary school children across the Derry City Council area have been composing peace pledges. Our children and young people, largely untainted by the Troubles, are well placed to offer their words and wisdom as to how we should relate to each other and live better together.
“Words such as forgiveness, friendship, kindness, love, tolerance and respect feature frequently in these peace pledges which will be presented to Martin Luther King III on Sunday.”
David Latimer says the idea for the cross community initiative first occurred to him during his stint as army chaplain in Afghanistan in 2008.
“In Afghanistan, I came face to face with what no human being should ever have to see - war, bombs and bullets, broken bodies. Strangely enough, it was through this carnage that the idea - a dream, if you will - first emerged.”
The idea was further developed in September 2012 when Dr. Latimer travelled to Amsterdam to explore the concept around the World Peace Flame Foundation.
“Inspired by the powerful symbolism of an eternal flame burning in a city emerging from a dark and dreadful past, I embarked on a journey that has culminated in the introduction, not of a world peace flame, but of a peace flame appropriate to the story around the despair that engulfed a city and its people which is now giving way for hope to be born and friendships nurtured.”
Dr. Latimer says each school’s peace pledge will, eventually, be engraved into blocks which will form a pathway to the city’s very own peace flame at the urban park on Foyle Street.
In the words of one of the participating school principals, “our children’s peace pledges will guide towards the light.”
It was during a recent visit to Washington DC that Rev. Latimer met with Martin Luther King III, pitching his idea to him and inviting him to visit Derry.
Funnily enough, the men met up in the very hotel where Dr. King put the finishing touches to his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
Dr. Latimer is in no doubt that securing Mr. King for Sunday’s event is a “major coup.”
“Martin Luther King III tells us that, ‘if we do not find that we have more in common than we do apart, we will crash’. None of us, for the sake of our children ever again want to crash.
“Without delay, we must pledge to leap hurdles, jump fences and penetrate walls so that, together, we can arrive at a destination of hope.”
Dr. Latimer paid tribute to all those who helped make Sunday’s event possible - including DSD, Derry City Council, firums energy, Johnson Press, the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Ireland-America Fund, Londonderry Presbytery Mission, Peace III.
He also applauded local architect Shane Birney who has designed the peace flame monument.
“This goodwill has been augmented by the commitment of local businessmen who, over the past few months, have generously donated to this bespoke peace building event,” he said.
Sunday’s events at Guildhall Square get underway at 5 p.m.