State Sen. Ed Harbison and a civic organization that serves the needy were both recipients Monday, Feb. 18, of a Legacy of Leadership Award for outstanding service to the black community.
Harbison and members of the Controllers' Civic and Social Club received the awards at the 28th Annual Black History Observance Breakfast at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.
During the breakfast, which drew a crowd of about 500, there was also a moment of silence in memory of a previous recipient of the award, Maretta Taylor, a former Columbus educator and member of the Georgia House of Representatives. Taylor died Sunday morning at age 78.
Karl Douglass, co-chair of the Black History Observance Committee, said the award is presented annually to organizations and individuals who have worked for the advancement of local African-Americans over the course of their lives.
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The committee showed two moving video tributes highlighting the senator’s career and the work of the Controllers' Civic and Social Club.
The club consists of active and retired military members who serve the community. It started about 30 years ago when Capt. Robert Saulter, who was serving with the U.S. Army as an equal opportunity officer, wanted to do something special to observe black history. He brought together 12 of his friends and they launched a Miss Black Heritage Pageant. Since then, the group has evolved into a community service organization that focuses on the youth and elderly.
The group has provided more than 21,000 pairs of shoes to Head Start children, according to the video, and regular donations to churches and needy families. Each year, members serve as hosts and hostesses at the black history breakfast and on Monday they were on duty dressed in red jackets.
“This is quite a shock, but it’s a great honor,” said Will Simmons, the organization’s president, while accepting the award. “We all understand that our children are our future Most of their lives are formed between 1 and 6. So that’s why we try to do those things to make their lives better.”
Haribson, a former Columbus newscaster, was recognized for his public service for over 20 years. He was described as an advocate for military families through his work as chairman of the Senate Veterans and Military Committee. He has also pushed for adequate health care and a safe community for all residents, the video said.
First elected to the senate in 1992, Harbison has also served as chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, the Mayor’s Committee for a Drug Free Columbus and the Community Task Force on Gangs.
The video about Harbison included a tribute from State. Rep. Calvin Smyre, former radio station manager Al Smith and Borden Black, who worked with Harbison in the early '80s as the first African-American/white anchor team in Columbus. “We had some great times together,” Black said. “And I think we really advanced the television business.”
But the most moving tribute came from Harbison’s son, Ed Harbison Jr. He said his father was a product of Montgomery, Ala., birthplace of the civil rights movement, and showed him how to be a man through his life as a trailblazer in the black community.
“He’s not a very tall man, but he has a big heart,” he said. “He’s big in stature and that allowed him to blaze some of those firsts among African-American men in our family and in our community.”
Harbison, who stepped to the podium almost speechless, thanked the committee for the award. He also reflected on his life during the civil rights era, saying that he and countless others suffered violence for the color of their skin.
“But one thing I learned from Dr. King, and (Atlanta Mayor) Maynard Jackson,” he said. “Be a man too busy to hate. If you focus on the right thing, it all comes together in the final analysis.”