PITTSFIELD -- Patience is the key to reaching racial equality in America.

That was the message from the Rev. Talbert Swan in his keynote speech during the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration hosted by the second Congregational Church.

"With the signing of the Civil Rights Act [in 1964], King knew it wouldn't end the racial divide," said the president of the NAACP's Springfield chapter. "It will take one step at a time."

Sunday's ceremony was held on the eve of the legal holiday to commemorate the slain civil rights leader's birth on Jan. 15, 1929. The church also bestowed its annual "Content of Character" award on Eddie Taylor of Pittsfield.

And it presented a special Legacy Award to the Rev. Willard Durant, a leading local champion of civil rights. Durant is best known for being co-director with his late wife, Rosemary, of the Christian Center for 18 years.

Swan noted that King's leadership of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a march toward an unknown future. Nearly 50 years later, the change expected under Barack Obama as the first African-American U.S. president has also been slow in coming, according to the Springfield minister.

"The promise of the moment hasn't been fulfilled," Swan said. "[But] I know a change is going to come."

If King's dream of equality for all in the workplace, housing, education and other facets of American life are to be realized, it's time for more people to be part of the dream, not just talk about it, according to the Rev. Norman Lee, of Lanesborough.

"We have potential, but many of us have been so [unmotivated] for so long, we've lost hope," said Lee, the pastor of the Christian Faith Fellowship Church.

Lee urged the gathering at the Second Congregational Church to have the same commitment, sacrifice, unity and vision from God that King had in trying to fulfill his dream.

Since arriving in Pittsfield from Connecticut nearly 50 years ago, Durant, 78, has been dedicated to improving the lives of city residents through his ministries. He served in various capacities at Price Memorial AME Zion Church for nearly 20 years -- the last eight as pastor before retiring in 1984. He left to devote full time to his co-director duties at the Christian Center for another 20 years. He now serves as pastor at Soldier On in Pittsfield.

In between, Durant and his wife helped the city's impoverished get a hot meal, keep clothing on their backs or simply help them get back on their feet through the Christian Center.

Jackson noted how Durant, described as a "great mentor" to the community, always has a positive outlook on life.

"It's difficult to have a conversation with Rev. Durant and not have a smile," he said.

Durant urged others to be guiding lights as well.

"Let your light shine so people can see your good works," he said.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.