By | Kiah Lewis
“Can’t turn around, we’ve come this far by faith”, was proudly sung by attendees of the 48th Annual Citywide Celebration honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination.
Priscilla Stephens (who was jailed for sit-in protests in 1960s as a FAMU student with her sister Patricia Stephens), representatives of Tallahassee Waste Pro, Congressman Al Lawson (5th District, FL), County Sheriff Walt McNeil, numerous Judges, distinguished School Board representatives, community and civil rights leaders of Tallahassee came together at Bethel AME for this celebration which included special recognition of Tallahassee sanitation workers.
This year’s celebration was dedicated to the 1968 Sanitation Workers of Memphis, Tenn. The sanitation workers of Memphis went on strike to protest low wages and dangerous working conditions that led to the death of two workers. On April 3, 1968, four months into the strike, Dr. King returned to Memphis to address the workers at a rally and delivered the last speech of his life, titled “I’ve been to the Mountaintop.” The day after, on April 4th, Dr. King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
Dr. Larry Robinson, 12th President of Florida A&M University, was the keynote speaker for the 2nd year. Dr. King was assassinated in Robinson’s hometown of Memphis, Tenn. when Robinson was only 13.
“His bravery is why I’m able to stand before you today,” said Robinson.
Robinson dedicated himself to honoring the dream of Dr. King by pursuing higher education. His mother was the driving force in making sure he always went to school when most of his peers were protesting and boycotting at such a young age.
Unlike Robinson, many young black people at that time weren’t fortunate enough to obtain a quality education. This issue follows this nation to this day. The theme of Dr. Robinson’s speech was “Unfinished Business”.
“There is unfinished business in education, equality and access,” said Robinson.
Robinson emphasized that education is a pathway to fulfilling the dream. Yet today, Black students still aren’t getting an equal education as opposed to their white counterparts.
A 2014 report from The Education Trust, titled “The State of Education for African American students,” states that these gaps are driven by gaps in opportunity. “African American students receive fewer of the within-school resources and experiences known to contribute to academic achievement.”
Robinson also noted that poverty is the reason for the lack of access to quality education.
According to the State of Working America, “Among racial and ethnic groups, African Americans had the highest poverty rate of 27.4 percent.”
There are also issues of performance when minorities are placed with students in schools with students of like socio-economic statuses. The LeRoy Collins Institute stated that Tallahassee is one of the five most segregated school districts in Florida.
Robinson believes that there is hope for resolving this disparity. “We must start with a fundamental belief that we can all get there, no matter how we got there,” said Robinson. “FAMU holds this fundamental belief to a high standard.”
We know this is true because of the history-making success of FAMU Alumni in 2017. “Four FAMU alumni were elected as mayors around the nation,” said Robinson.
Booker Gainor was elected as the first African-American mayor of Cairo, GA. Keisha Lance Bottoms was elected as the second female mayor of Atlanta, GA. Deana Holiday Ingraham was inaugurated as the 34th mayor of East Point, GA near Atlanta. Lastly, Melvin Carter became the youngest and first Black mayor of St. Paul, MN.
Congressman Al Lawson urged the importance of giving back to those less fortunate. “Dr. King’s message was all about the opportunity to share the American dream and there are a lot of people who are not sharing the American dream.”
Rep. Lawson also wants millennials to step up and lead the dream.
“Millennials represent the dream of tomorrow. One of the ways that millennials can become more engaged is giving more responsibility,” said Lawson.
“We need you all getting elected to office, continuing the educational process and to be a part of everything that we are doing.”
Reverend William Foutz, Sr., President of Inter-Civic Council of The Southern Christian Leadership Council wants FAMU students to get involved with the fight to fulfill Dr. King’s dream and stand up in the face of injustice.
“Inter-Civic Council of The Southern Christian Leadership Council really was organized because FAMU students Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson went to jail for sitting in City bus seats normally occupied by white passengers,” said Foutz. “Student activism is the key, especially activism from FAMU students.”
In honor of the 1968 Sanitation workers of Memphis, representatives of Tallahassee Waste Pro management were presented a plaque for their hard work and contributions to the community.
Other honorees included keynote speaker, Dr. Larry Robinson and emcee of the celebration,