King breakfast event sets stage for more efforts

crichardson@macon.comJanuary 20, 2014 

Wynton Burnette reads Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech during the Warner Robins march Monday morning. People march along S. Davis Drive in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on their way to Warner Robins CME Church for breakfast Monday morning.

WOODY MARSHALL

Reflections on the life and legacy of America’s most famous civil rights leader continued for the 24th time at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration, held Monday morning at the Mother Katharine Drexel Center. The breakfast has come full circle. Though it has been held in several locations over the years, it returned just a few yards from the cramped basement of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church where it began in 1990.

“Advancing the Dream: Where Do We Go From Here?” was the 2014 breakfast theme. And along with the singalong, there was an audience participation exercise. Small strips of paper with quotes from King and Nelson Mandela were placed at each table. Participants, more than 200, had to find someone with the same quote and write an idea on the back of the paper that would help fulfill King’s dream. (The ideas will be placed on websites and published in the Opinion section of The Telegraph.)

One of the ideas is for each adult to get involved with a youth-based organization -- Boys & Girls Club, Mentors Project, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Promise Neighborhood -- or any other group serving children in an effort to impact and guide their lives.

The responses will be a springboard for other 2014 events to recognize the 50th anniversary Freedom Summer Initiative. On April 4, a commemoration of King’s assassination will be held. June 28 will mark King Follow Through Day, in which the community will assess its work on implementing ideas from the breakfast. Starting June 25, the community will remember Freedom Summer, that 10-week effort 50 years ago to register blacks to vote, primarily in Mississippi. It lead to the deaths of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. On Nov. 11, there will be a community Thanksgiving service. A Mandela Celebration will be held Dec. 5. An emancipation service on Jan. 1, 2015, and the King Day breakfast on Jan. 19, 2015, will wrap up the year-long recognition.

Yolanda Latimore, one of the organizers of the exercise, said part of King’s legacy that speaks to her is “putting action behind efforts to bring about equality to all people and especially people of color.”

Many of the speakers acknowledged that although the community had come far, King’s dream was short of being fulfilled. The Rev. Jarred Hammet, pastor of Northminister Presbyterian Church, said, “We have to turn stumbling blocks (those issues that divide us) into stepping stones,” and he brought large stones to illustrate, “So we can walk over deep water (difficult issues) without getting our feet wet.”

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert, the featured speaker, said, “Obviously, King’s legacy factors into our history, but his legacy actually factors into our future -- I hope -- if we are to come together and continue to adhere to his advice, to his counsel and to his prophesy on how we all need to work together. King recognized that desegregation was only the first step in a long process that would go from segregation to desegregation to integration to inclusion and ultimately to the beloved community.”

Beyond the dignitaries, the breakfast has always been supported by a wide swath of the community. Shikera Howard said King’s contribution cannot be understated. “He’s a big historical figure,” she said. “Without him, how would our kids be raised today? It would have meant a whole different life for us. We would be living, I guess, back in the days of slavery.”

Donnie Wayne Churchwell, recalled that he was brought up in a prejudiced society. “When I went off to the University of South Carolina as a new Christian,” he said. “I wasn’t sure Catholics or foreigners could be Christian. It would have taken years to get all that prejudice out of me but for a Library Science major. He took me under his wing into an organization called Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship that was black as Africa. God sent me a brother to raise me up in the Lord. Even though King is dead now he’s still my brother, too.”

King’s impact on securing voting right for blacks is particularly poignant for Rabbi Larry Schlesinger.

Last Tuesday, he won a seat on the new Macon-Bibb County Commission in a district that is 66 percent African American.

“We have to look for the most responsible but qualified candidates rather than people who look like us. It’s a matter of us coming together and putting the differences of color and religion and the other things that separate us, behind us,” Schlesinger said.

Capt. Willie May, who attended the March on Washington in 1963 and was in Washington, D.C., on April 4, 1968, the night King was assassinated, remembers the grief that gripped him. “I’ll never miss one of these (breakfasts), if they have to wheel me in here in a wheelchair. It means just that much to me.”

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