Youthful passion energizes King Day
The energy of youth, shared by young men and women for whom Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is a figure out of four and five decades-old history, and not a memory from their own lives, inspired this Monday’s 33rd annual commemorative birthday celebration for the slain civil rights leader.
Following an affectionate introduction from Morgan Martin, a 2015 Franklin County High School graduate who has gone on to graduate Florida A & M University and a career in broadcast journalism, R. Damien Davis, who graduated from FCHS five years earlier, provided a rousing oratory that combined the wisdom of history with the passion of a 20-something, and had the audience standing and cheering.
“Just as Moses was the voice for the Israelites against Pharaoh to release the bond he had on God’s elect, and Jesus a voice to the poor, sin-sick soul, Dr. King was a voice for the oppressed against bound by prejudices and injustices,” he said. “This voice, in which we’re celebrating today, took a stand for those mistreated by a hypocritical government; this voice took a stand for socioeconomic indifferences; this voice took a stand for the voting rights of the African American people.
“This is why it’s important that we exercise our right to vote every opportunity we have, because these people stood and fought for this,” he said, his voice rising in a preacher’s crescendo. “Shame on those who neglect this right and refuse to vote, especially black people. How dare we neglect a right that we as a people were once denied!”
The son of Robert and Jhaki Davis, of Apalachicola, Davis has preached since he was still in elementary school, as an active member of the Love Center Church, and after a distinguished high school career that included serving as the marching band’s first drum major, reached a bachelors in communication from Florida State. He now works as a mortician and is active as a minister.
In his remarks before a packed Armory audience, in keeping with the day’s theme of “The Power of a Dream,” Davis likened the opposition and harassment that King experienced for his dream, to that of Jesus and of Joseph, who was cast in a pit by his brothers, jealous of the favor he had found in the eyes of Jacob, his father.
“The fulfillment of your dreams will often be accompanied by opposition. Nevertheless, just because opposition arises it doesn’t mean we are impeded from the fulfillment of our dreams,” said Davis. “Joseph had a dream and felt comfortable to tell his brothers about it, but little did he know, his own brothers could not stand him. In their attempt to try to silence the dreamer, the scriptures tell us that Joseph’s brothers threw him in a pit and eventually sold him into slavery. But that didn’t stop him.
“A series of events took place in Joseph’s life (both good and seemingly bad), but by the end of the story, Joseph’s dream came to pass,” he said. “Because Dr. King was empowered by his dream, he did what it took to fight segregation in every effort to promote and achieve racial harmony among the American people. It’s easy to talk about it, but if you want to see the manifestation of it, it requires work. Somewhere I read in the Bible, “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.”
In describing King’s legacy, Davis told of how blacks were denied the opportunity to partake in the privileges whites had.
“In those days, blacks had to enter a public place through the back, while whites entered the front; blacks had to ride in the back of the bus while whites rode in the front; blacks were beaten for not saying ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ to whites while they, in turn, addressed blacks as ‘boy’ and other derogatory names; back in those days, blacks were often denied the right to vote,” he said. “Dr. King’s dream was a reflection of his mission to usher an oppressed people to better days.”
In closing, Davis drew on a preacher’s cadence, reminding the assembly that “each moment of opposition Dr. King faced was a moment designed to silence the dreamer.
“The constant attacks initiated by those who were not in favor of Dr. King’s efforts were designed to silence the dreamer, but Dr. King kept on dreaming,” he said. “The assassination of Dr. King had seemingly silenced the dreamer. Little did they know that even though they silenced the dreamer, 52 years later The Dream lives on. Thanks to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. his dream did not become just any reality; it became our reality.
“Whatever you do, don’t stop dreaming,” he said in closing, the audience rising to its feet.
The program at the Armory, which was draped in an enormous American flag, opened with a presentation of colors by the Port St., Joe High School NJROTC, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by Thea Croom, and the singing of the National Anthem by Melody Hatfield.
Deanna Simmons recited the James Weldon Johnson poem, “Lift Ev’ry Vopice and Sing,” regarded as the Negro National Anthem, followed by a prayed from Methodist minister Pastor Brian Brightly.
“We pray as we face a dysfunctional politic, where families and neighborhoods de-humanize each other not only in America but in pockets around the world, for we who are old enough to remember the racism and bigotry of the mid-60s, we pray that we can learn from history,” he said. “And that Dr. King’s counsel that ‘the ultimate erasure of men and women and a culture is not in the moments of comfort, power and wealth, but where we all stand as Jesus surely did, in times of challenge and controversy.”
The program, emceed by pastor David Walker, included a dance by The Chosen Generation, and a recitation by Micah Edwards and Zariah Harvey. Michael Grady & the NuGulf Coast Choir,” from Panama City, performed a spirited prose poem and dance.
Following Davis’ remarks, Elinor Mount-Simmons, vice director of the MLK Jr advisory board, presented four awards to local leaders.
Special recognition went to Apalachicola Lt. Pamela Lewis, with 19 years of dedicated service to the city police department; with an award for economic empower going to Valentina Webb for her work as case manager at CareerSource.
A humanitarian award went to retired Apalachicola police chief Anderson Williams, for his two decades of work with youth programs, and one for community service went to Dr. Dreamal Worthen, for her work with the community as a professor at Florida A & M University.
A lifetime achievement award went to Rose McCoy-Thomas, for her four decades of service as a teacher, principal, church officer, city commissioner and business owner.
Dolores Hayward-Croom, who chairs the annual event, closed with a recognition of the advisory board and thanks to all the elected officials in attendance.
Following a prayer by Assembly of God pastor Scottie Lolley, the gathering moved to the courtroom steps for a brief moment of prayer.