Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. faced tremendous pressure through the challenges of his civil rights efforts during the last years of his life, guest speaker Mignon Clyburn said during a celebration of his life at USC Aiken's Convocation Center on Sunday.


“He was full of faith and conviction,” said Clyburn, a South Carolina native and a commissioner for the Federal Communications Commission. “He did not stay down and knew he had too much work to do.”


The annual event is sponsored by USCA and Aiken Technical College, as well as additional support from 15 businesses and government entities.


Entertainment was presented by the Aiken Community Voices and by A Time to Dance Studio, performed by director Mari Moring and her daughter, Patience Jackson.


Dwayne Wilson, the Savannah River Nuclear Solutions CEO and president, invited the audience members to visit 20 service organizations following the ceremony.


“This is an opportunity to share with you the legacy of the life of Martin Luther King,” Wilson said.


King had on occasion asked of what others were doing with their own lives. He urged the service of others, and Wilson said by volunteering their time with any of these non-profits, people can realize King's vision.


Wesley Hightower, an Aiken County Board of Education member, recognized three students as essay winners of a county-wide contest also reflecting on King's life. They are Jasmine Weed, Clearwater Elementary School; Sarah Wilson, North Augusta High School; and Jesse Keenan, Silver Bluff High School.


Nearly 44 years after King's death, people still have a burning curiosity about him – a giant of a man at 5-6, Clyburn said. Progress has been made, yet the challenges remain that will take a collective community effort.


King had a wife and young children and knew all too well about the danger and the risks he faced, and “With his eyes wide open, he made the sacrifice so others could live better,” Clyburn said. “I know he would encourage us to be drum majors for our causes.”


Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001.