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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – With choirs raising their voices in praise and knees bent in prayer, the African American Pastors Coalition (AAPC) Monday celebrated Dr. King’s legacy—by looking forward: challenging the community to ‘Save Our Sons’.

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“African American young men are really in a state of crisis,” said Coalition President, Pastor Bryan Carter, who is also Senior Pastor at Dallas’ Concord Church, “Fifty-percent of them graduate from high school, 70-percent of them are raised by single parents, they’re the leading group that’s incarcerated. So, we just felt like today, let’s do something different.”

Throughout the uplifting, nearly three hour service, there were examples of community success stories—like Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy Junior, Dalton Sherman.

“We need to do our best to rise above the stereotypes,” Sherman told the crowd, while encouraging his peers to “stop the pipeline to prison and take advantage of all of the opportunities for success.”

Sherman is no stranger to the stage. In 2008, he won the annual Gardere MLK Oratory contest and later created such a stir with a motivational address to Dallas Independent School District teachers that he eventually landed on Oprah. And he agrees that there is reason to worry.

“There is a crisis,” Sherman said. “Adults are not overstating anything.”

Still, parents of this good kid say they still worry that the world has not yet reached the point where he will be judged only on the ‘content of his character’. Dalton’s mother, Donna Sherman, said, “We still feel the battle, because society still has a stereotype.”

Dalton’s father, Carlos Sherman, echoed some of the burdens. “No matter how he’s dressed or how he presents himself, the first image they see is of a black kid walking in.”

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Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings briefly addressed the crowd—calling the event “a great day of honesty and hope.”

Some of that honesty is hard to hear.

Well known pastor Jeffrey Johnson, from Eastern Star Church, in Indianapolis, Indianan, shared his personal story of growing up in a single parent household and lamented that the “average time a father spends with his child is seven minutes a day.” The lack of fathers in African American households, he says, is exacting a high toll.

So while celebrating Dr. King, the AAPC is also using the MLK holiday to challenge the community to become involved in addressing long standing problems.

“When you think about the legacy of Dr. King and his heart for the community, his heart for social justice, his heart for service, we felt like, yes, it’s crucial that we not only celebrate it, but, what are we going to do?” asked Pastor Carter. “How do we take a part of that legacy and begin to live that out in our own lives? So that’s why we focused today on mentoring. Find a young man, find a young girl that you can mentor and invest in. That’s a great way of keeping the legacy alive.”

Carlos Sherman agrees and wishes that more young people growing up in single parent homes could have soaked in the encouragement… with his son adding that his parents’ presence has made all the difference for him.

“They’ve instilled within me this idea of succeeding,” says Dalton, “that I am just as good as the person sitting next to me. They were always there…that’s what they did right.”

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