Dr. Melvin O. Baker, DMD was honored with the I Have A Dream Award. The I Have a Dream Award was first presented in 1987 is given to individuals who "exemplify the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King," according to celebration committee secretary Josephine Brown.
Baker was the first black dentist to operate his own practice in Newton County. Freda K. Reed described Baker as a "quiet foot soldier."
"He quietly steps to the drum of working toward living the life that God has asked of him," Reed said.
In addition to being a well known local dentist, Baker is chairman of the Washington Street Community Center Board of Directors, a life member of the NAACP, and serves on various other boards at Newton Medical Center, First Newton Bank and the YMCA. He also plays in the Newton County Community Band and is a devoted member of St. Paul AME Church in Covington.
Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown was presented the second Trailblazer Award for his numerous accomplishments, namely being elected the first black sheriff of Newton County in 2008. The Trailblazer Award is given to Newton County residents who are known for their service to the community. In 2009, B.C. Crowell was honored with the first award for a lifetime of service to Newton County.
Brown's son, Ezell Brown Jr. presented his father with the award and described his life growing up in a rural Georgia town during segregation. Brown Jr. said segregation did not keep his father from dreaming big.
While operating a successful construction business 36 years ago, Brown felt the need to work in peacekeeping and sought employment with the Covington Police Department at a time when not many officers were black.
Brown soon went to work for the Newton County Sheriff's Office and worked his way up through the ranks. He eventually told his family he wanted to run for sheriff and made an unsuccessful bid in the 90's, but did not let that stop him.
"As a brick mason he understood that every brick must be placed in the right place if the building is to stand," said Brown Jr.
Brown accepted his award expressing his gratitude and saying "this is just the beginning of my labors and not the end."
Both awards are voted on by the 13-person celebration committee.
The 2009 MLK Scholar and recipient of a full scholarship to Oxford College and Emory University, Meghann Keeley Timmins, also attended the ceremony and expressed her thanks saying that the scholarship has already changed her life dramatically.
The Newton County King Scholar Fund is funded by community and business donations. For every dollar raised locally, Emory University matches $5, enabling the student to attend Oxford College for two years and then to Emory in Atlanta. The Rev. Harold Cobb, celebration committee chair, said the scholarship is awarded based on academic merit, character and financial need.
"This scholarship has no color," said Cobb, "it's for everybody."
Musical performances were given by BJ's Love and Learning Center and the King Interdenominational Choir and a liturgical dance presentation was performed by the Praise Team of Springhill United Methodist Church.
Dr. Stanley J. Pritchett Sr., interim president of Morris Brown College in Atlanta, then delivered a rousing keynote speech, asking the audience throughout, "what can we say we have done to keep the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. alive?"
He said that residents of Newton County should be proud of the accomplishments that have been made in regards to equality over the past 50 years, but that there is still more work to be done.
Pritchett detailed situations such as states spending more money to jail young black men than to educate them, veterans returning from service only to live on the streets, high foreclosure rates, teens not presenting themselves in respectable ways and children using text message spelling in the classroom and said they are all symptoms of progress yet to be made.
He said many black Americans view the election of the first black president as the "pinnacle" of accomplishment.
"What you have to realize is that we can't just stop there," Pritchett said. "There is a lot of work to be done. President Obama can't do it by himself."
He encouraged audience members to take stock of their community, identify areas in need of improvement and work diligently to advance their goals - for that is the way to keep the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. in the forefront of daily thoughts and activities.
"When we think of his birthday as a day on and not a day off," he said, "then we plant the seeds of giving."