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MLK breakfast focuses on paving the way for others

Alva James-Johnson

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.com

Video: Georgia State Senator Ed Harbison named the 2016 MLK Jr. Unity Award Recipient

Georgia State Senator Ed Harbison was named Monday morning as the recipient of the 2016 MLK. Jr. Unity Award during the 30th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Award Breakfast at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.
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Georgia State Senator Ed Harbison was named Monday morning as the recipient of the 2016 MLK. Jr. Unity Award during the 30th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Award Breakfast at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. walked a path paved by those who went before him, and today's generation must leave a track for others to follow, a preacher said Monday.

The Rev. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, brought that message to Columbus as keynote speaker at the 30th Annual  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Award Breakfast, which drew hundreds of people to the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.

In addition to the speech, which brought people to their feet,  the crowd also received greetings from Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe. Noah Stewart, a world-renowned opera singer, sang several selections.

The event, organized by the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, focused on the theme "Keeping the Dream Alive: A Call to Service for the Greater Good."

SirMichael Jones, co-chair of the organizing committee, said the breakfast has raised over a quarter of a million dollars in scholarships for students over the years. It also shines a spotlight on people who serve the community.

This year, the fraternity gave the MLK Jr. Unity Award to State Sen. Ed Harbison. The award was presented by Trenna Trice, of the SaMarc  Foundation, which received the award in 2015.

Trice said Harbison, a native of Alabama, is one of the 50 most influential African Americans in Columbus and has helped improve health care in the region. He is also a former member of the Muscogee County School Board, a graduate of Leadership Columbus and has received many awards for professional accomplishments and community endeavors, she said.

"The recipient is a highly decorated military veteran who continues to support military veterans as noted by induction into the Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame," she said.

Harbison, also a former Columbus broadcaster, said he was speechless and credited his mother for his community spirit. 

"I would like to thank my mom for instilling in me a great, great sense of community service," he said. "My mom went through the civil rights movement but she will never be recognized for it, but that was not the goal, was it.

"We had Dr. King, Rosa Parks and other people who got the press," he said. "But she got the blessing of getting to ride in the front of the bus finally in the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala."

In his speech, Moss energized the crowd with a message titled "Called to Make a Way," which compared King's predecessors to John the Baptist who paved the way for Christ.

He said King was "the greatest prophet" that America has ever produced, but it's also important to remember "the legacy of all of those who collectively worked together to build  a freedom movement that did not just begin in 1955 in Montgomery, Ala., but began the moment that people of African descent landed on these shores, whether it was in Jamestown, Va., or Charleston, S.C., ..."

He said King's predecessors included the Rev. Vernon Johns , who served at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., before King arrived. Johns challenged the status quo of his time, which got him in trouble with local authorities, Moss said. So his congregation removed him, hoping to get a preacher they could control. They hired King, and "the rest is history."

Moss told the fable of a young girl looking at a river as locusts make a track to the river's edge. Many of the locusts are swept away by the current, but others eventually build a bridge across the river because of the sacrifice made by others.

"I stop by here to let you know, 'Don't get all excited because you're here,'" he told the crowd. "Somebody made a track to the river's edge so that we could make it to the other side here today."

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