"The danger of silence allows evil to flourish. Bigotry and hatred are not as dangerous as silence."— Dr. Martin Luther King
Franklin McCallie, the founder of Chattanooga Connect, would like to see the organization's Unity 2020 effort take flight in Cleveland.
The former educator, and the first white administrator at Chattanooga's Howard High School when it was an all-black school, was the keynote speaker at Saturday morning's Martin Luther King Jr. Celebratory Breakfast in the Cleveland High School cafeteria.
His presentation was about the campaign in Chattanooga to establish an understanding of racial differences and inequalities in Southeast Tennessee communities and across the South.
Saturday's breakfast was another of a series of community events for Martin Luther King Jr. Week, and MLK Day on Monday. It all began with a visit to Cleveland Middle School Friday morning by Brianna Mason, the state's first African-American Miss Tennessee.
Lawrence Armstrong, one of the organizers of Saturday's breakfast, closed the celebration by reminding attendees of Monday's MLK Day Parade in downtown Cleveland and special programs throughout the week at Cleveland State Community College and Lee University.
Saturday's crowd of approximately 100 was catered tby Cleveland High culinary students under Chef Clyde Rush, and entertained by the high school's Ebony and Ivory Choir under the direction of Rhonda Ferguson.
Organizer Lawrence Armstrong's wife, Valoria, served as the emcee. There were words of welcome and MLK history from Cleveland educator Dr. Barbara Ector, the introductory prayer by Dr. G.R. Hill, introduction of the speaker by longtime acquaintance Dr. Martina Harris of CSCC and a closing prayer from Cleveland Pastor Edward Robinson.
The focus of McCallie's talk was the continuing search for racial equality in America, as well as the efforts of Chattanooga Connect.
He comes from a family of Chattanooga educators. His grandfather and great-uncle founded McCallie School in 1905. Two of his great-aunts founded Girls Preparatory School (GPS) in 1906.
McCallie admits growing up in racial ignorance during the 1940s and 1950s, telling of an instance at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis in 1961 when a conversation with a fellow (black) student opened his eyes to inequality.
The conversation led to subsequent debates with his father, McCallie School's headmaster. His father refused to listen to arguments that McCallie should become integrated.
Those debates led to him not becoming an instructor at McCallie School, but spenting three years as a white administrator at Howard School.
"They were three very enjoyable years," he said Saturday.
He became principal at a large public high school in St. Louis, Mo., where he received a number of local, state and national honors.
He returned to Chattanooga eight years ago, where he and his wife, and two cousins, founded Chattanooga Connect.
They have brought together 1,600 black and white citizens to build friendships and encourage interracial togetherness. Their meetings were at McCallie's home, but have branched out to 10 other locations, and have initiated the Unity 2020 effort. His presentation Saturday focuses on this program.
In Dr. Harris' introduction, she said, "His laugh and smile are contagious, and when he speaks, people listen." This was true Saturday, as he kept his audience captivated.
He said Chattanooga Connect is seeking to influence people "to be as we should be."
"We held our first meeting on Aug. 1, 2013. We invited black people to meet white people," he said. "We talked about our lives, and how we could move forward, whites and blacks. We had heavy talks and decided what needs to be done for improvement of white and black relations."
McCallie emphasized that following those initial meetings, "things are happening," resulting in the Unity 2020 initiative.
McCallie discussed his relationship with his family and the racial debates he had with his father.
"My dad was a white guy infected by the racism of America," he said.
The story had a positive ending, when his father eventually realized the need for integration, not only at McCallie School, but throughout the Chattanooga community.
All this progress stems from McCallie's discussion with a fellow college student in 1961, when the black student told him, "Your father's stupid!"
McCallie also pointed out in 1965 Dr. King said, "The danger of silence allows evil to flourish. Bigotry and hatred are not as dangerous as silence."
Emphasizing Dr. King's words, McCallie said with silence, "We risk losing the America we want and deserve."
He closed by repeating the words of political activist Dr. Angela Davis: "I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, but changing the things I cannot accept."
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