Mayor Teresa Tomlinson was overcome with emotion Monday while receiving the 2018 MLK Jr. Unity Award at the 32nd annual Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity breakfast.
Retired Col. James C. Jackson, the 2017 recipient of the award, made the announcement after a rousing speech by the Rev. Frederick. D Haynes, III, senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. This year’s theme was “The Ongoing Struggle against Social Injustice.”
“Needless to say, it’s a bit of a surprise, and I am so incredibly honored,” the mayor said, her eyes glistening with tears and her voice choking with emotion at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center. “... I say this to you, Rev. Haynes, and all of you today, ‘I am one of you. I’m a soldier for justice, and will do all that I possibly can to use all the abilities and talents God has given me to pursue that cause.’”
Georgia Trend Magazine named Tomlinson one of the 100 most influential Georgians for five years, Jackson pointed out in his remarks. She is a graduate of Emory University School of Law and she received a Kennedy School of Business Bright Ideas Award from Harvard University.
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Jackson also stressed Tomlinson’s role in expanding the city’s annual “The Dream Lives” MLK event and programs sponsored by the Mayor’s Commission on Unity, Prosperity and Diversity.
Prior to receiving the award, Tomlinson greeted the crowd, alluding to recent racial controversies under the leadership of President Donald Trump.
“... It seems all too often that we’re traveling down a road we’ve been before, that somehow we’re backing up,” she said. “So, I feel the need to talk about some things that we all thought were well settled.”
Tomlinson referred to “the disease of complicity,” and compared injustice and hatred to weight that a person gains overtime without realizing the significance of the problem.
“... The beauty of it is that we have all these lessons to teach us how to deal with complicity and how to stand up and fight that little gnawing of injustice that seems to be part of the human plight,” Tomlinson said. As an example, she pointed to Martin Niemöller, a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor who lived in Germany in the 1930s and 40s. Niemöller is best known for his statement: "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. ... Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me."
“... He was a leader in his community like all of us are, and there were some troubling things going in his community at that time,” Tomlinson said. “But he was a leader, and he thought the best use of leadership was to try to find common ground between those that were perpetrating injustice and hatred and those who were just trying to get along, you know, and not bring the focus to their family and to their business, their individual life.
“Folks, Dr. Martin Luther King said. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’” said the mayor. “Let me tell you this, ‘The insult and disparagement of any race is an insult and disparagement to all races.’”