For the 26th year, Newton County residents and officials gathered Sunday to honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. by celebrating two longtime county servants who help keep his spirit alive.
County Recreation Director Tommy Hailey and Bethlehem Baptist Church's Summer Feeding Enrichment Program were named the 2011 recipients of the I Have a Dream and MLK Trailblazer awards.
I Have a Dream Award
Rev. Harold Cobb, the annual organizer of the event, introduced the I Have a Dream Award by painting a mental picture of Covington in 1953. Segregation was alive and well, in every walk of life from restaurants to schools. Streets in black neighborhoods remained unpaved and blacks were not allowed to enter the Covington and Porterdale mills except for work.
"But something happened in 1953 that would change Newton County forever. Through a child, hear me now, born in Porterdale, educated in the Newton County School System," Cobb said. "He went off to college and returned with an education and a vision. He began to work this vision in the only way that God would allow him. Because he too had a vision that little white boys and girls and little black boys and girls would play together in organized sports. He used what was segregated and integrated the hearts of the children first thus changing the minds of the parents."
Cobb also spoke of Hailey's efforts to bring a Miracle League field to Newton County to allow disabled children a place to play baseball. For all of those reasons Hailey was recognized as a "citizen of Newton County whose caring and concern has kept Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's dream alive."
"I came here thinking I was just going to set a presentation up," Hailey said. "Rev. Cobb was one of the reasons I came back, he was at the time on the Board of Commissioners, through their vote and their ability to hire me. I thank him for that, and I will never forget that.
"I want to just say thank you to the (selection) committee too for your vision and foresight to keep Dr. King's legacy and work here in Newton County going. As we celebrate his birthday today I'm humbled by receiving this award, and I know he's looking down today at this celebration and saying great job Newton County, great job. Thank you. I'll always cherish this."
MLK Trailblazer Award
The MLK Trailblazer Award is given to recognize "a citizen or agency in Newton County that succeeded in making a difference in the lives of its citizenry" said Rev. Billy Wade, of the First Presbyterian Church of Covington.
"When the doors of schools were closed for the summer, many children emerge as an obvious part of the citizenry whoa re often left without supervision, and we know that idle minds often lead to inappropriate behavior," Wade said.
It was for that reason that Rev. Hezekiah Benton and church member Hazel Bostick convinced the community of Bethlehem Baptist Church to begin a summer youth feeding and enrichment program 20 years ago. The program is still alive and well, though Bostick has since passed away.
"Overwhelmingly, we accepted the statement of trying to do some ministry for the children whose parents weren't there, to give them a hot lunch and keep them out of trouble, but also that we could conduct an entrance into a summer learning experience," Benton said. "I accept this award on behalf of our church, for our community and again I know Ms. Hazel Bostick is looking down, because she blessed us with this summer ministry."