The Liberty County Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Association hosted its annual Leadership and Grand Marshal Breakfast on Saturday morning at the historic Dorchester Academy in Midway under the theme “The Power, Purpose and Promise of HIStory … Get a Grip.”
Midway Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington, Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin, Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette, other elected and appointed officials, clergy, community members and dignitaries filled the same auditorium where King and civil-rights leaders once gathered for lectures and banquets.
The Rev. Irene McCall, who served as the mistress of ceremonies, expounded on some of King’s well-known quotes, talked about the significance of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and described the changes that can result when different types of people commit to working together.
Attendees stood to participate in a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as Oraetta Henderson led on the keyboard, and listened to Elder Henry Blair sing about freedom. The crowd observed a moment of silence to remember leaders in the community and their efforts to bring about unity. Lana Walthour discussed Dorchester Academy’s citizen-education workshops, during which over 2,000 grassroots leaders from around the South were trained and sent out into the world to educate others on their legal rights. Dorchester also served as the planning site for the Birmingham movement.
Saturday’s meal was provided by Lena Mae’s County Café and consisted of foods that were similar to what was served at Dorchester during its time as an educational hub — eggs, toast, hash browns, bacon, sausage, fruit, biscuits and gravy. Over breakfast, guests fellowshipped, took pictures and caught up on the latest community news and events.
Memorial Health University Medical Center Chief Nursing Officer Dr. Mary B. Chatman was the keynote speaker. She shared the story of her life, focusing heavily on the moments when she said she had to “get a grip.”
“All of us are here because of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King. We’re here because of the work of people in the community; we’re here because of the work of schools; and we’re here because of the work of churches. … Everyone needs to get a grip. We often think it’s for the youth or for women, but at the end of the day, we all need to get a grip. We need to get it early and often. … We do not have to be a product of our circumstances, nor of our environment. We can set our own journey through the grace of God,” Chatman said.
She talked about being raised by a mother who suffered from mental illness and the violence she witnessed as a child. At the age of 7, Chatman couldn’t read or write, and that was one moment she knew she had to “get a grip.” By the third grade, educators recognized her ability to learn quickly, and Chatman was advanced a grade. She eventually excelled in school, but dealt with depression brought on by events in her early childhood. Still, Chatman overcame hardship and graduated from high school as the class salutatorian.
“I tell this story because part of the power we need is in education, is in determination, is in having the power to not live in the past but continue forward. … Whether you’re 2 or 102, you need to have a voice,” Chatman said. “Today, I believe if Martin Luther King were here, he would be proud. He would be proud that we have not forgotten him. He would be proud that we do have a journey. He would be proud that we use that power for a purpose. He would be proud that all of us will walk away today in 2015 and that we’ll get a grip.”
During a passing of the torch ceremony, 2014 Parade Grand Marshal Admiral Annie B. Andrews’ sister, Deborah Dawson, passed the torch on Andrews’ behalf to Carol Robinson, who accepted for her mother, Sallie W. Richardson, the 2015 grand marshal.
At the end of the program, all attendees stood, held hands and sang “We Shall Overcome.”
Commissioner Lovette’s mother, Louise Lovette, has attended the breakfast for the past two years and thought this year’s program was more lively.
“I think the program was beautiful. I came last year, but this year it seemed like the spirit was higher. I thoroughly enjoyed it,” she said.
Attendee Shirley Osgood concurred and said she learned a lot.
“The program was very informational,” Osgood said. “I enjoyed it very much, and it was excellent.”