After year’s delay, congressman gives keynote speech at FVSU

FORT VALLEY — Last year, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., was supposed to spend his Presidents Day as keynote speaker at the Fort Valley State University Black History Month Scholarship Luncheon.

But his airline had other plans, and he couldn’t make it.

This year, he took a flight Sunday to ensure he would make it to the scholarship luncheon Monday where he was once again the scheduled guest speaker. The chief deputy whip in the U.S. House apologized to the audience for last year’s absence.

For him, speaking at the event was a duty and an honor.

“I try not to turn down opportunities to give African-American history speeches,” Butterfield said. “I use every chance I get to tell the story.”

Before a crowd of more than 600 people at the 22nd annual luncheon, Butterfield took the audience all the way from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the election of President Obama on Nov. 4, which he called the greatest success he had ever witnessed.

For the audience, he recalled a phone call from then-Sen. Obama requesting his support for his presidential run. At the time, Butterfield said Obama was confident he could raise the money, get the popular vote and get the electoral votes needed to win from Southerners. Butterfield remembered thinking the first two things were possible, but at the time he didn’t think the South would swing Obama’s way.

“I was dead wrong,” Butterfield admitted to the crowd.

Butterfield proceeded to tell the audience that though Obama’s election and inauguration were significant, it’s time to move forward.

“We need to get the pomp and circumstance and ceremony behind us because we got serious work to do,” Butterfield said before touching on the economy and the recently passed economic stimulus package.

The nature of the economy reared its head at this year’s event. Chairman Troy Young said the annual event raised more than $100,000 toward the university’s $250,000 scholarship funding goal. Though the effort ends in June, university officials have seen higher numbers at the event in past years.

“Everybody dug deep and gave what they could,” Young said. “It’s just a blessing to be able to give.”

Rising FVSU senior Ashley Pate has benefited from the giving in the past. The infant and child development major, who is also a Presidential Scholar, was recognized for maintaining a 3.7 grade point average. She was overwhelmed by the number of people who turned out for the event.

“It shows if you cannot afford it yourself, there are people who are willing to help you,” Pate said. “That means you have no excuse.”

To contact writer Natasha Smith, call 923-3109, extension 236.