This year marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Martin Luther King Jr. told the American public about his dream of ending racism and inequality.
Maj. Gen. Augustus L. Collins said America has come far since King’s speech, and Barack Obama’s second inauguration as America’s first black president on Martin Luther King Jr. Day illustrates this point. He said America still has far to go; for instance, some politicians are looking for ways to build more prisons while trying to cut education budgets.
“The dream is not complete. There’s a lot of work to do,” Collins said. “I remember (King) as a bridge builder. That’s what we need more of — men and women wanting to build infrastructure that won’t benefit us but will benefit (future generations).”
Collins was the keynote speaker at the 19th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity Breakfast Monday at Colvard Student Union, kicking off a day of community service in King’s memory that included Volunteer Starkville’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, Stamp Out Bullying at East Oktibbeha County Elementary School and an NAACP memorial march and rally on Douglas Conner Drive.
Collins said King’s dream, like any dream, requires work in order to be set in motion, and King threw himself into that work, even to the point of being arrested 30 times. He said dreams also need someone to follow up on them and continue that work.
“That’s where you and I come in. We have to make sure the dream is still viable, that it’s still moving forward,” Collins said. “I tell young people they ought to have dreams, and they ought to be able to follow up on those dreams.”
After Collins’ speech, Mississippi State University honored three young dreamers as winners of its Second Annual Martin Luther King Unity Breakfast Writing Competition. The top winner, Starkville High School junior Yolanda Kelly, read her essay to the Unity Breakfast audience. Second place went to Mississippi School for Math and Science senior Ashley Claytor, and third place went to SHS sophomore Ian Hurley.
MSU President Mark Keenum thanked Collins after his speech and declared him an “honorary Bulldog.” Keenum also commented on King’s legacy earlier in the program, saying 2013 also marked the 50th anniversary of MSU’s own mark on civil rights history — the March 15, 1963 MSU vs.
Loyola University NCAA tournament basketball game, where head coach Babe McCarthy and MSU President Dean W. Colvard defied state segregation policies to play against a team with four African-American starters.
“(Colvard, McCarthy) and our team literally slipped out of town and headed to Michigan (for the game),” Keenum said. “The Bulldogs lost that basketball game a half-century ago, but they helped record a victory for themselves, for our university and for our state. While we are proud of those accomplishments, we recognize that there is much more to be done, and we can do it together.”
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman also thanked Collins for his visit and declared Collins an honorary citizen of Starkville. He said Collins’ words provided a solid foundation for the community service area residents would engage in for the remainder of the day.
“Today, we’re going to go out and be bridge builders,” Wiseman said. “Just like the eggs and grits (from the Unity Breakfast) have nourished out bodies ... your words have nourished our souls.”
Volunteer Starkville Director Jamey Matte said the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service was a success. She said she estimates 50 volunteers provided games, activities and education for 100-150 community participants.
“Considering this is the first time Volunteer Starkville and the Maroon Volunteer Center have done a community event at the Starkville Sportsplex with these types of activities, I’m pleased with the turnout,” Matte said. “The kids are very interactive, asking questions and answering questions, especially in the Martin Luther King Jr. trivia room. You can tell they’re interested in the history around Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Matte also said Stephen Middleton, MSU African American Studies program director, inspired guests with his keynote speech at the Day of Service. Middleton said King had three qualities that enabled him to lead the civil rights movement: preparedness, compassion and a willingness to take action.
“(King) applied himself educationally. His preparation showed up in every aspect of his life, especially his speeches,” Middleton said. “Upon receiving his Ph.D. in 1955, he was poised to get any position a black man could have gotten at the time. Dr. King did not have to become a leader of the civil rights movement. He took this responsibility because of his compassion ... for the indignities that black people suffered. If you want to make a difference ... like Dr. King, you’ve got to take action. If you prepare yourself, if you allow yourself to feel compassion, if you take action, you will walk into your destiny.”