Dr. Eric Mansfield, a former N.C. state senator and ex-Army officer, is perhaps best known in the area as an ear, nose and throat surgeon in his adopted city of Fayetteville.
But Mansfield is also a preacher.
A powerful preacher.
On the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday, the doctor delivered a significant sermon as keynote speaker at the 30th Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Brunch.
The nearly 1,300 in attendance inside the Crown Exposition Center for the celebration were witness to what turned out to be a memorable and satisfying speech.
“Dr. Mansfield, I needed those words,” Omega Jones of Fayetteville radio fame, the MC for the program, said following his keynote speech.
Mansfield opted to preach during his time at the podium.
The observance was sponsored by the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Ministerial Council.
"You could have gotten anybody else from around the world. But you got me, and I’m so thankful you did a little home cooking and you got me. … If you’re my patient, I don’t do anything until tomorrow,” Mansfield said to laughs.
“I asked Apostle (Sharon Thompson-)Jernigan if it was OK — do you want me to speak or to preach,” he said of the president of the ministerial council.
She said, “‘Either one.’ So, I'm going to preach,” Mansfield said.
His sermon took the audience for a ride in their seats that included the story of Elijah, "the prince of prophets," and the cave.
An animated speaker, Mansfield uses his hands for emphasis while blessed with a voice that occasionally thunders with his well-written passages.
Mansfield used 1 Kings 19:9, 19:15 and 19:16 as his source for the Biblical prophet Elijah and the cave, which Mansfield said was a hiding place for him to lodge. The Lord came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah, who was alone and depressed, said he was frightened for his life and also complained about the unfaithful people of Israel. God gave him a new mission and reassured that all would be well. He told Elijah to go back and anoint Jehu as the new king of Israel.
Mansfield mixed Biblical basics with contemporary thoughts and illustrations that made the sermon crackle with humor and energy.
“Before there was a DoorDash, God sent him some food through some ravens," he said. "He found a widow woman and her son, took some cornbread and some fatback grease and fed them for six months," he said over the reverberating laughter and applause.
“This is the same prophet who had the national championship of prophets. He told Ahab, 'You bring your guys to the 50-yard line, and I’m going to bring my guys to the 50-yard line. You bring your TCU – sorry, wrong crowd.’ My bad.”
“My, my, my,” one man muttered aloud, loving it.
“You doing real on Instagram, but you ain’t real with yourself,” Mansfield said God spoke to Elijah in the cave. "You got a bunch of 'likes' on Facebook, but you don't even like yourself. You're on TikTok, but you don't know what time it is."
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It was electric inside the Expo on this occasion to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mansfield tied the Biblical story of a dejected Elijah to the real life of King.
Four years after giving his eloquent "I have a Dream" speech, he said of King, "It turned into a nightmare. And he said, ‘it wasn't so much because of the opposition of the white supremacists, it wasn't so much a Johnson administration reluctance and J. Edgar Hoover's trying to bring me down.’ But he said, 'It's become a nightmare because of the infighting within the civil rights movement. The fighting over power, prestige and plans. So King says, 'I'm tired and weary, just like many of you. Tired and weary and fed up.’"
"And then on a global scale," Mansfield went on, "you're tired of nearly 60 years of civil rights. Of marching and boycotts and singing 'We Shall Overcome.' And we're still fighting some of the same battles."
God told Elijah to go back home and cultivate the next generation. But also, continue the fight.
"Stay in the fight," Mansfield urged.
I'm here to tell you, Mansfield said, that the race that we're running, the fight that we're fighting, is an extra-generational fight. "It didn't start with me. And it won't end with me. In this race, there are two parts: You've got to pick up the baton, and you've got to pass the baton."
“Outstanding covers it all,” said 88-year-old Chauncy McDonald of Fayetteville, who was wearing a Vietnam Veterans cap.
Fayetteville’s Stephon Ferguson did his spot-on King recreation through the bold “I have a Dream” speech, in which the late civil rights leader uses the phrase “Let freedom ring.”
The celebration included worship music and brief words from such local dignitaries as N.C. State Sen. Val Applewhite — the first African American woman to represent Cumberland County in the state Senate; Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin; Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West; former Cumberland County Commissioner Charles Evans; and Claretha Lacy, the wife of the late Wilson Lacy.
Wilson Lacy’s legacy was also recognized.
In introducing his wife, Jones called Wilson Lacy “a dominant figure.”
“He was unrelenting in pursuing a dreamless dream,’’ Claretha Lacy said. “And that dreamless dream is and was the further development of the Martin Luther King Park."
Woven into the proceedings was the theme: “Shining the Light on Mental Health.”
In fitting with that theme, Applewhite said: “We are in the midst of a mental health crisis in our country, in our state and county. … We are only one of 11 or 12 states that have yet to pass Medicaid expansion. And in the words of Dr. King, ‘Of all forms of inequality, injustice and health care is the most shocking and most inhumane.’”
Dana McNair, 58, of Fayetteville, said it was important for her to attend the prayer brunch “to keep Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream alive and represent.”
This was her third one in Fayetteville.
For McNair, who moved here four years ago from New York, the civil rights activist means “hope, vision and keeping the dreams alive.”