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Celebration of dreams
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Forrest Sawyer and Dennis Cheek received the "I have a dream" award Sunday afternoon during Newton County's three-day celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"I think this is the most prestigious award in the county for the common man," Sawyer said of the award. "It is a great group of folks who have received the award before me, and I am just glad to be associated with them."

The award is given annually to the persons who have continued to keep King's dream alive.

"I was very humbled by the experience," Cheek said. "I know the accomplishments of others who have previously won the award."

Both men were modest after receiving the award, deflecting the praise to those around them.

"There are a lot of people who are as deserving as I or anyone else," Sawyer said. "Still, it feels good to have someone say, 'Yeah you are a pretty good fellow.'"

Cheek agreed and added that his coworkers should share in the recognition. "I'd like to thank the volunteers that work with me," Cheek said. "They really deserve the credit."

Neither man knew in advance he would be receiving the award, but family members were notified the night before to ensure the winners would be in attendance.

"My wife can't keep a secret so it was good they only let her know the day before," Cheek said. "I did wonder why she insisted I wear my tie."

The ceremony, which was held in the Porter Memorial Auditorium at Newton High School, was just one of several events celebrating King's holiday.

Hands on Newton hosted a cleanup day Monday at the Graves Chapel Cemetery. People from all backgrounds participated in the cleanup of the cemetery which was founded in 1800 for slaves. A town hall meeting addressing the city's growth related problems was also held Saturday.  

"Maybe this weekend will be the model for us in the future for Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations," Sawyer said. "This was a historical and significant weekend in Newton County."

 Both Sawyer and Cheek were active in the community in 2007. Sawyer and his wife Sharon created the African-American Historical Association Web site, which he said has been a great success.

"We are really collecting the African-American history of the area," Sawyer said. "It is unlike the history of any other city and needs to be preserved. We think that the Web site will be a model for others. We have had people ask us about it from all over the place."

The couple also started the radio show Brothers and Sisters Keeper which airs from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays on 1430 AM WGFS.

Cheek is the executive director of FaithWorks and Habitat for Humanity in Newton County along with being a board member for the United Way, the Community Accountability Board, Community Food Pantry Board and the Emergency Food and Shelter Program.