Local leaders and residents glimpsed the past by setting their eyes and ears to the future Saturday morning as they honored the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The future was represented by numerous young participants, including Marcus LeCounte who welcomed attendees and 10th grader Ashanti Branch who awed the crowed with worship through dance.
They gathered for the 10th annual leadership breakfast at the historic Dorchester Center. More than 100 people assembled in the heart of the center where King dreamed – literally – while he traveled and prepared for a march in Birmingham, as well as for his famous “I have a dream” speech. The breakfast was the second of several events planned to celebrate the MLK holiday by the Liberty County Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Association.
“Lord, we thank you to have gathered in such a historic place, where we raise up a man who you raised up,” Richard Hayes said, speaking of King and blessing the meal. “By us honoring him, we must first honor You because it was You who ignited his steps.”
Before continuing to honor King, members of the association honored local civil rights activist Booker T. Burley, 89, who will serve as the Liberty County 2011 MLK Parade’s grand marshal on Monday.
Burley was a close friend of King, according to his daughter Pat Jackson. King attended fish fries at Burley’s home on several occasions.
Jackson, speaking on behalf of her father, spoke of King’s influence on Burley’s life.
“I remember when [King] came to the house,” she said. “My mother went out and bought all new pots and pans. Thanks to both of my parents, we grew up with the understanding that you should always help somebody. God put breathe in us because He was proud of us and we want to make Him proud.”
Jackson said she is glad that her father was being honored.
“My father, like King, helped everybody, blacks and non-blacks,” she said. “He was not only in the black community, but also in the white communities. He was everywhere.”
Attendees were also reminded why King’s steps should never be forgotten or taken for granted
“Dr. King said we fought to sit in those segregated schools, preferably in the front …,” Marjory Varnedoe said. “Dr. King said judge us by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin …
“It’s not a message of harping on the old stuff, but an appreciation for where we have gone so far.”
The keynote speaker, the Rev. Braylon Hyde, 16, endorsed Varnedoe’s comments, but challenged attendees to lead by example and teach young people to dream their own dreams and follow them with integrity.
“I believe that Dr. King not only wanted us to continue to carry out his dream, but to pick up the baton and carry out our own dreams,” Hyde said. “We must be able to say to ourselves that we may not be able to see it right now, but I’m going to be inspired enough to dream.
“We must educate ourselves and others. We must be able to stand up and recognize that it is time to say, ‘pull up your pants’,” Hyde said to roaring applause, “’if you want to enter the doors of success, you must enter them with both your belt and your pants pulled up.”
Sherry Young and her nieces Victoria Smith, 14, and Ashli Smith, 12, stood and vigorously clapped.
Young has attended the breakfast with her nieces for the past four years.
“I bring [my nieces] every year so they will know which way to go and where we all come from,” she said. “It’s an important stepping stone for them.”
Mary Baggs, 100, said she’s attended every breakfast and has never tired of the event because she knows its worth.
“It’s important for [young people] to know that there are no barriers,” she said. “There are people who paved the way for us to achieve whatever is possible.”