By TRAVIS MORSE
MT. VERNON — — Pastor Christopher Swims gave a rousing speech at Saturday's African-American Heritage Gala, calling on men to be strong husbands and fathers, and to serve as mentors for youth.
Because without a male presence in the home, the family is left unprotected against potentially destructive influences, he said.
“It starts with the men,” Swims said. “When our men are not present, when fathers are not present, when husbands are not covering their wives and their children, they are open and vulnerable, exposed to the enemy to do whatever it is he desires to do.”
Swims was the keynote speaker at the 16th annual Jefferson County African-American Heritage Committee Gala, which took place Saturday at the Mt. Vernon Holiday Inn.
His presentation was meant as a “call to action” for men to take an active role in their children's lives, and to also be “surrogate fathers and mentors” for other young people, he said.
Swims is the senior pastor at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Carbondale.
“We have walked away from the handbook,” Swims said, referring to the Holy Bible. “We walk away from this handbook (and then) we wonder why marriage and family is the way that it is right now.”
The gala featured a variety of speakers, as well as musical performances and award and scholarship presentations.
James Malone, vice president of the Heritage Committee, said the event serves as a way to inspire local youth and combat some of the negative stereotypes about African Americans.
“You have to think about why this organization came into existence,” Malone said of the committee. “It was to acknowledge and to record and make known the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans to Jefferson County.”
At Saturday's gala, three local residents received Heritage Awards. They included Alis Jones, a District 80 staff member currently working toward a bachelor's degree; Keisha Nelson, a fifth grade teacher; and Robert Brown Jr., a Head Start teacher for Mt. Vernon City Schools.
Brown said the award is a great honor and that the gala makes for a wonderful evening.
“It's a good time (for) fellowship of friends and family and to have a good time,” Brown said.
Also on Saturday, Special Recognition Awards were given to Richard Gradford, Lisa Hendricks, Kenneth Miles-Akins, Terrance Hooper, Helene Moore, Carlene Brown and Beverly Mays.
“I'm just very humbled to be recognized,” said Hooper, who has been a CNA for more than 19 years.
Honorary Awards were presented to Maxine Young-Douglas, Mintha Smith and Irma Jones.
In addition, several young people were recognized with School Achievement Awards, including Jalen Exson, Torean Moore, Terrance Benjamin and Dominique Robinson.
“I'm excited about it, anytime we can do something to recognize students in our community for the job that they do,” said Rev. Cleo Holt, president of the Heritage Committee. “(It's about) the recognition and also it goes down in the history of the community.”