For Martin Luther King Jr., it was a dream.
For James Payne, a Texas attorney who was the keynote speaker at Monday's annual MLK Unity Award Breakfast, he fears the dream could turn into a nightmare. "In my nightmare, you walk into a department store and they treat you not as a customer, but as a suspect," Payne said. "In my nightmare, young people are concerned more about what is on their heads than what is in their heads. ... In my nightmare, we didn't have to worry about the Klan, because in my nightmare we were killing ourselves." Payne's message was delivered to about 500 people at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center. It was sponsored by the local chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. Payne, a law partner in the Beaumont firm of Provost-Umphrey, praised King and other leaders of the past. But he said it has come time for a youth movement. "You need their wisdom to guide you, but we need people who have the energy to move this country forward," Payne said. He asked for all of the people in the audience under 40 to stand. "You are our leaders," he said. He closed by telling a story of fire ants on his South Texas property. He had tried everything to rid the land of the ant hills. But every time he did some -- powder, gasoline, whatever — the mounds would quickly return. Then came Hurricane Rita. "When it came through, it washed out my lot and took care of the fire ants," Payne said. "One week later, I went back to the lot and you know what I saw? A fire ant mound. How is it that fire ants in one week can build a mound and in 100 years we can't build a community?" Payne then answered his own question. "I will tell you how it is. They get organized. The chiefs and the Indians understand vision. They set a plan. Then the chiefs and the Indians start working. Fire ants stick together."
And if you want to know how well they stick together, Payne said, go put your foot in a mound. "You have to deal with every ant in that mound," he said.