MLK events slated today
by By RICK NORTON Associate Editor
Jan 20, 2014 | 1828 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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A three-day weekend commemorating the life, and the dream, of Civil Rights pioneer Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. entered its final leg today with participants giving their message a face through community service projects, and a commitment by area youth to keep the dream alive.

Today’s observances began with a morning breakfast and program at Tennessee Christian Preparatory School that included Upper School students and special guests; the event transitioned to the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway an hour later with students joined together to conduct a cleanup project along the heavily used linear park.

Another service project took the community baton later in the morning with volunteers from the Bradley County Chapter of the NAACP and other supporters serving a hot meal at the Cleveland Emergency Shelter. One of King’s humanitarian visions was a nation, and a world, that cared for its forgotten and fed its hungry.

Coverage of the TCPS commemoration, and both service projects, will be provided in Tuesday’s edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner. Keynote speaker for the TCPS ceremony was Ron Hill, a longtime educator and principal in the Cleveland City Schools system who is now retired.

Tonight, the dream stays alive in Conn Center on the campus of Lee University during the annual Dream Keeper Awards Ceremony in which Dream Keeper awards will be bestowed upon minority students from both the Cleveland and Bradley County school systems who have maintained a 3.0 GPA or higher, through the academic year’s first semester.

Awards are presented to students in grades 7-12. The Dream Keepers define another King belief — that education and a commitment to academic excellence will serve as the breeding ground for success in life, not just for students of color but for all students ... black or white, boys or girls, rich or poor.

The King vision worked for a Cleveland native who now serves as a United States Court Probation Officer in Greeneville. Shaquana Kennedy, a Cleveland High School graduate whose roots in education were planted in the city’s most impoverished school — Blythe Avenue Elementary — told her story in the opening stanza of the community’s weekend tribute to the Civil Rights leader.

Kennedy was the keynote speaker during the MLK Community Prayer Breakfast at the Bradley County Senior Activity Center on Saturday.

“Do not let your circumstances or your background define who you are,” she told a crowded center of supporters, as reported in Sunday’s edition of the Banner. “You have to move on from that.”

Kennedy reminisced on growing up in the 6th Street projects in government housing, stressing, “... [I] am proud of it. That’s who I am.”

Her telling testimony relayed the story of that period. Of the plight of the kids at Blythe, she stressed, “That’s where all the poor kids went to school. ... We didn’t have all the resources the other schools had, but we didn’t know we were poor because everyone looked alike.”

Kennedy’s stirring message told of how she learned responsibility the hard way, how mentors helped to change her life, how the leaders at a neighborhood recreation center and the congregation at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church gave her a life-changing support, and how a brush with the law and a courtroom appearance opened her eyes to the reality of getting her life together.

Kennedy’s words defined the message of hope — and of peaceful resistance — delivered by the slain Civil Rights leader in the turbulent 1960s. King died in Memphis on April 4, 1968, the victim of an assassin’s bullet.

The weekend celebration of King’s influence on race relations and equality took a spiritual turn Sunday with a Community Worship Service at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. The scheduled keynote speaker was minister Timothy Purifory of Christian Fellowship. Emceeing the event was the Rev. James Parris, pastor of Star Bethel Baptist Church.

Tonight’s MLK observance at Lee University will feature the keynote address of Martina Harris, director of nursing at Chattanooga State Community College. The program gets underway at 6 p.m. Coverage of tonight’s Dream Keeper Awards also will be provided in Tuesday’s edition of the Banner.

The Dream Keeper Awards Ceremony is being co-sponsored by the local NAACP, 100 Black Men of Bradley County Inc., Lee University and the Ministerial Association.

Although the weekend closes tonight, the observations do not. One more is scheduled Thursday on the Cleveland State Community College campus.

At 6:30 p.m. in the George R. Johnson Cultural Heritage Center, a guest appearance will be made by Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the highly respected University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The UMBC president has led the school since 1992. Hrabowski was a child leader in the Civil Rights Movement, and to this day he continues to author papers and conduct intensive research on science and math education with special emphasis on minority participation and performance.

Hrabowski chaired the National Academies’ committee that produced the recent report titled, “Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads.”

Time magazine named Hrabowski one of America’s 10 Best College Presidents in 2009, and later recognized him as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012. Hrabowski’s work at UMBC was recently featured on the CBS news magazine, “60 Minutes.” He was also featured in a 1997 documentary directed by Spike Lee. Titled “Four Little Girls,” the production told the story of the racially motivated bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963.

Most recently, Hrabowski was named by President Barack Obama to chair the newly created President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

The public is invited to Thursday night’s presentation at no charge. However, due to limited seating, registration is recommended. Those planning to attend may register, or may obtain additional information, by visiting the website at

Registration can also be completed by calling 423-473-2341 or send an email to

Words from Saturday’s published program of the Community Prayer Breakfast seemed to reflect the collective King dream when it said of Kennedy, “At the tender age of 31, Shaquana Kennedy is living her dream. As she continues building her resume with increased responsibility and community involvement, who knows what lies ahead for her?”

Another excerpt taken from the Community Prayer Breakfast program is part of the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” One stanza in particular offers a spiritual credit for the strength and perseverance needed in a people’s continuing march for freedom and quest for unconditional equality.

It reads, “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears; Thou Who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light; Keep us forever in the path, we pray.”

The three-day commemoration to a man and his dream, and its fourth-day extension into Thursday, is following a common theme — one etched in community service, reflection and inspiration.

In the words of Cleveland resident RaSharon King, whose tireless efforts have helped to plan the observances in conjunction with many others, “Dr. King’s holiday has had a service theme. I share his name and his vision. I can’t sit down and do nothing.”

Themed “Salute to Greatness,” the entire slate of weekend events, and the community service projects, have been — and are being — held with purpose.

In RaSharon King’s words, their intent is to “... ignite the spirit of service, action and achievement.”

She added, “We hope to draw the community in and inspire them to pursue the dream. The dream is for all people, regardless of race, religion or stance, to all have equality in education, in pay, in housing and in the workplace.”