By RORYE O’CONNOR
MT. VERNON — —
Guest speaker William Jenkins called the African-American community to remember its history in order to move forward.
During Monday’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon, hosted by the Jefferson County Branch of the NAACP, the author and pastor said African-Americans need to remember a time when family, community, education, human dignity and getting along with others were important issues.
“You knew how to rear children who are respectful to teachers,” he said. “We raised young men who wore their pants on their waists, with a belt. We raised children who sought education, who were good, decent and delightful people. Some how in the last two decades, you have taken some shortcuts.
“You have to go back to where you lost the meaning of life. Come back to the word of God, come again to brightness and decency. If someone says to you, ‘I have a dream,’ you can say, ‘I am the dream!’”
Jenkins said Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech features prominently in celebrations of his life and work, but that his work is not finished in America.
“I suppose if he came to Washington, D.C., today, and saw a black man being sworn in as president for the second time, in a country that once held black men in slavery, he would say, ‘My God’,” Jenkins said. “... But King would not be satisfied with just seeing the mountain top, and D.C. today is the mountain top. He would go back to the valley, where more black men are in prison than are in college.”
Jenkins said while it is wonderful to talk about progress, it is important to remember that some people haven’t moved forward as much as others.
“We are stuck, we are being held back,” he said. “We are holding ourselves back.”
He told a story about a man who lived through the Civil Rights movement, who as an older man was scared to sit at the front of the bus. He said the man had to be led to the front of the bus, and told that it’s all right for him to sit there.
“You might think it’s strange that he had to be led,” Jenkins said. “You would think it would be obvious. I am a preacher, and I have to tell you the truth whether you want to hear it or not. ... Nobody gives you permission. You have won your permission, and it’s almost disrespect to those who fought for it if you don’t move to the front of the bus.”
The NAACP awarded community members, one business and local students with awards and scholarships.
Those who won Freedom Awards this year were Nikitia Hughes, Jeff Campbell and Dr. Michael Smith.
Campbell thanked the NAACP for the award, which he said was a surprise.
He said he found it a challenge to justify himself being worthy of the award, and finally came to Galatians 6:9, “Let us be not weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
“It is what I do, it’s something in me to do,” he said. “I gravitate toward giving back to people. It’s a blessing to me. Thank you, everybody for saying I affect the community positively.”
Smith, Mt. Vernon Township High School superintendent, said he was honored and humbled by the award.
“I have an unwavered dedication to No Child Left Behind,” Smith said. “I believe we have made a lot of progress, and I believe the next movement of civil rights is education.”
He said in his 28 years as an educator, the discussion has always returned to the standardization of education across the country as an equalizer. In the global economy, knowledge and skills are currency, he said, and the U.S. will need to produce a skilled, knowledgeable student body to compete with the rest of the world.
Hughes thanked everyone for thinking of her.
“I believe that it is a blessing to serve others rather than being served,” Hughes, a probation officer, said. “It is sometimes frustrating working in the courts, because I see a lot of dropouts. But when I get messages from people thanking me for encouraging them, that they got a diploma or a GED, I know my labor is not in vain.”
The Jefferson County Branch of the NAACP recognized Hardees #3 at 1900 Broadway with a Business and Equality Award.
Four local students received Academic Achievement Awards: Christopher J. Williams, Achia Shipp, Dominique Robinson and Whitney Jones.
Good Samaritan Regional Health Center for a second year collaborated with the Jefferson County NAACP to provide a $2,500 scholarship to a student pursuing a career in a health care field.
Adrienne Doggan, who is attending Southern Illinois University with a major in nursing, was the recipient of the award. She is on track to graduate in 2016.