Johnson urges audience to remember, celebrate, act

January 22, 2013 10:28:10 AM

Slim Smith - [email protected]


Dream 365 wrapped up five days of activities Monday with the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Breakfast at the Trotter Convention Center. Keynote speaker Harry Johnson told an audience of more than 300 that the key to fulfilling King's dream relies on three components: remembering, celebrating and acting. 


Now in its seventh year, Dream 365 also used the occasion to honor its annual award winners. Entertainment was provided by the Columbus High School Gospel Choir and Columbus Middle School students, who recreated King's "I Have a Dream'' speech.  


Johnson is an attorney who grew up in St. Louis and now calls Houston, Texas, home. He is better known for his role as president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, a post he has held since the foundation was started in 2002. Johnson led a fund-raising campaign that amassed $120 million in private donations for the King Memorial, which is located near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. 


The Memorial was dedicated on Oct. 16, 2011. Since then, Johnson said, it has attracted almost two million visitors. 


Johnson said the King Memorial represents the "action'' part of the three-part process of achieving King's dream. 


"It is not enough to remember. It is not enough to celebrate. You must take action,'' Johnson said. "It was your nickels and dimes and quarters that allowed us to have a Martin Luther King Memorial. It was through action that we were able to build a monument to a man of peace and the first man of color at the National Mall, between Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson." 


Action, Johnson said, is the natural outgrowth of remembering and celebrating. Each is critical. 


"What an historic year 2013 will be,'' Johnson told his audience. "Fifty years ago, some extraordinary men planned a march for jobs and freedom that today is remembered as the March on Washington and Dr. King's "I Have a Dream'' speech. That was also the year that John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the year Medgar Evers was assassinated, the same year four young girls in Birmingham were murdered. It was the year that we saw so many things that we never want to see again in our country.'' 


"We have to remember all those who made the sacrifices that allow us to eat the food we did not gather, and drink from the wells we did not drill.  


"Three quarters of this country knows nothing about what has happened since 1968 (the year of King's assassination). We have to teach our kids so that this day we celebrate today means something more than just a day out of school. Martin Luther King Jr. shouldn't be just something they read about in a history book...and then just move on to the next thing." 


Johnson said that celebrating the sacrifices of Dr. King and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement means acknowledging the achievements that would not have otherwise been possible. 


"We celebrate the fact that, in just a few hours, President Barack Obama will take the oath of office for the second time. But like all of us, President Obama is also drinking the nectar of the fruit planted by others who came before, people like Jesse Jackson and John Lewis and Medgar Evers and Sojourner Truth." 


The event ended with the awards presentation. 


The 2013 Oasis of Freedom and Justice awards went to Trudy Gildea, founder of the Columbus Suzuki Strings program, and Diane Hardy Thompson, Laverne Green Leech and Barbara Turner Bankhead, who were members of the first class to integrate Mississippi State University. 


The 2013 Unsung Heroes awards were given to Luberta Taylor, retired teacher; Gwendolyn Gray, Eastwood Boys Home; Beth Jeffers, United Way volunteer; Martin Andrews, assistant chief of the Columbus Fire Department; Melanie Ford, Columbus schools teacher of the year, Kids 'N College program; Dr. Sue Jolly-Smith, MUW; and Nancy Bragg, Sale Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School. 


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]