Community leaders and citizens came together on Sunday afternoon to remember a man who made history by pushing for freedom, and they awarded two individuals who followed in his footsteps.
The community reflected on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Ecumenical Program held in the Porter Memorial Auditorium at Newton High School. The event was hosted by the Newton County Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance Committee.
The auditorium was filled with song as the audience sung "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the National Black Anthem written by James Weldon Johnson; community officials took to the stage to express how the citizens of Newton County should move forward in bringing progress to the community; and awards were presented to individuals who were nominated by the community for their community service and contributions to the community in effort to create change.
The audience read a litany of commemoration, watched performances from several choirs and bands and listened to several speakers. The Rev. Lyn Pace, Chaplin at Oxford College of Emory University and Keith Ellis, Chairman of the Newton County Board of Commissioners, gave greetings at the event and expressed their thanks for Dr. King.
"We have a wonderful county here," Ellis said. "Because of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Newton County is a better place and Georgia is a better place.
"We aren't completely satisfied, but we are a whole lot better off than before because of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."
Robert Hight, a 2012 MLK Scholar of Oxford College of Emory University scholarship recipient, expressed his appreciation for being a scholarship recipient.
Hight said he fell in love with the campus of Oxford College and really wanted to attend, but he was concerned finances would not allow him to attend the university. However, when he learned of the MLK Scholarship - which is a four-year full-tuition scholarship awarded annually to a Newton County resident to attend Oxford College for two years and two years at Emory College - he decided to apply.
"I worked very hard on the application," Hight said. "One day I looked in the mailbox and received a letter from Oxford College."
Hight said he was pleased to find out that he received the 2012 MLK Scholarship and would be able to attend Oxford College of Emory University. He said his mother made him his favorite meal that day, being that it was such an accomplishment. After selections from the BJ's Love and Learning Center's Children's Choir, The King Interdenominational Choir and a liturgical dance from The Turner Lake Interpretive Dancers, State House District 113 Representative Pam Dickerson - who represents Rockdale and Newton counties - spoke to the audience about the difference that King made.
Bea Jackson, executive director of the Washington Street Community Center, was named the "I Have a Dream Award" recipient for her continuous work with youth in the community. Louise Adams accepted the award on Jackson's behalf.
The "MLK Trailblazer Award" was presented to Richard Johnson, owner of A&J Bonding Company, for being a civil rights icon who led the way in integrating Covington's schools and businesses in the late 1960s and early-1970s. Johnson accepted the award and urged everyone to continue the efforts of Dr. King by loving one another.
"We have to change today in order to have a better tomorrow," Johnson said. "We shall overcome all because we love one another."
The Rev. Theodis Bell challenged the community to treat others exactly as Jesus treated others. He said Dr. King was the captain of today's freedom train; and since his exit the challenge has been where do we go from here?
"Racism is absolutely wrong, equality is absolutely right," Bell said. "See and treat people as God created them. Equal.
"There is racism from race to race, but in each race there exists classism - the self-declaration by folks that they are better than other folks-but they are all created equal by God."
The program closed as members of the Men of Celebration Choir led the audience in singing, "We Shall Overcome."