Anchored on roots of cultural understanding, Black History Month counts among its contributions to humanity key elements like diversity, exposure, appreciation, tolerance and communication ... especially the latter.
Only nine days into February, our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown has already hosted a plethora of activities and public gatherings — compliments of forward-thinking organizations like the Bradley County Branch of the NAACP, the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Church of God International Black Ministries, Lee University and Cleveland State Community College.
Even before the launch of Black History Month, area residents paid homage to the birthday of slain Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the holiday weekend of Jan. 20. The occasion included community service projects, a theme that was instrumental in the teachings and the moral fabric of Dr. King.
And now another celebration lies ahead. Although it serves as a tribute to humanitarian leaders like MLK and to the heritage of Black History Month, it does not fall in January nor February.
Instead, the annual Scholarship & Mentoring Banquet of 100 Black Men of Bradley County Inc. comes to us in March. On a festive Saturday evening on the Lee University campus — March 8 — corporate supporters, businesses, educators and individuals of many races and cultures will assemble in the Deacon Jones Dining Hall to fellowship and to show unconditional support for the young people of our community.
In the knowing words of 100 BMBC president Ronald Arnold, “... It’s all about the kids.”
And that’s as it should be.
The very foundation of change — any change — is strongest when capturing the hearts of young faces, unheard voices, open minds and fresh ideas.
Who better to sound this message than one who has served for decades as an advocate for children? We speak of Bishop Guilford R. Hill, a retired public educator who serves as pastor of The Church of God Sanctified in Cleveland, who has been named keynote speaker for the coming banquet.
To borrow from a familiar adage, the man knows of what he speaks.
Bishop Hill dedicated 33 years of his life to the Cleveland City School System as a classroom teacher, an assistant principal at the high school level, and finally as principal for his remaining 12 years at Blythe-Bower Elementary School. Even in retirement, he is not far removed from education. The popular pastor and well-respected educator currently serves as a field experience supervisor of student teachers for Lee University.
As Arnold words it, Bishop Hill is “... an excellent speaker who gets right to the point.”
Others would agree. It is why this influential orator has become a much-sought guest at community engagements, both in Cleveland and outside Bradley County. Most recently, he addressed an assembly of Upper School students at Tennessee Christian Preparatory School as part of the institution’s remembrance of MLK and the Civil Rights Era. The same student body later completed a community service project by cleaning up trash and debris along Mouse Creek and the Cleveland/Bradley Greenway.
Last year, Bishop Hill delivered his timely message to the local NAACP affiliate as the civic-minded organization paid tribute to MLK and to Black History.
Bishop G.R. Hill, who is known to his friends as “Ron,” assuredly will be a dynamic speaker for the “100” banquet whose theme this year is “Twenty Years in the Making: One Mission, One Cause and One Vision.”
It is a special occasion for an organization whose charter came two decades ago. In that time, these leaders and their corporate sponsors have provided some $900,000 in scholarships. Last year alone, scholarships totaled almost $41,000. Currently, 23 students are receiving scholarship support.
To get underway at 6:30 p.m., the banquet promises to be a lively time. A handful of past scholarship recipients will join Bishop Hill at the podium to tell their life stories. Musical entertainment will define the mood and special presentations will highlight the evening.
Ticket price is $60 per person and can be purchased from any “100” member or by calling the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce at 472-6587.
We welcome the inspiring Ron Hill and the refreshing voices of some of Cleveland’s finest young people.
Twenty years of mentoring is a long time by the calendar, but a short chapter in changing lives.
100 Black Men of Bradley County Inc. is a pivotal part of this community. It is why we urge a communitywide attendance at a worthwhile event.
It will be an evening for the race best known as humanity — black, white and all colors that adorn this life.
It will be a shared experience for those who view our children of today as leaders of tomorrow.
And, it will be a chance to beam with pride — as loved ones, as friends, as supporters and as all who see promise in a four-letter word called HOPE.