Cleveland: M.L. King Day message is of helping others

Cleveland: M.L. King Day message is of helping others

January 20th, 2009 by Randall Higgins in Local Regional News

Today's inauguration of President Barack Obama is not only a historic occasion for black Americans, but for all Americans, Cleveland Vice Mayor Avery Johnson told Lee University students Monday.

"We've all got a stake in what happens tomorrow," Mr. Johnson said Monday as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday events in Cleveland.

Across the region, people were taking a stake in what happened on Monday too, such as the 600 students, faculty and staff from Bryan College who spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day on service duties in the region.

They laid down their books and spent the day at assisted living centers, providing programs for children, or doing manual labor on numerous projects in local communities during the college's Fifth Annual Martin Luther King Service Day.

how far we have come

Cleveland Vice Mayor Johnson and his brother, Andrew, told Lee University students about growing up black in segregated Cleveland.

Both rose from unequal opportunities to lives of active community service and leadership in the quest for equal rights.

Avery Johnson was part of the local change of government in the early 1990s. The move to district council representatives found him among the first black city officials to be elected in Cleveland since 1920.

"There were many people who sacrificed a lot so we can live in a time like this," Vice-Mayor Johnson said, citing his teachers and ministers who told him to work for, and expect, change.

"And there are people who are here before me who will have the same opportunities to make changes," he told the Lee students.

Andrew Johnson still gets tears in his eyes when recalls being refused a place on an industrial league basketball team because he is black. Instead, the factory told him to form a team for blacks, he said.

"Barack Obama is just one man," Andrew Johnson said. "You all have the challenge before you. All I ask is you keep some diversity in your life. When you become that CEO, take somebody along with you that needs some help."

duty to help others

Bryan College's theme this year was "The Least of These," according to Ben Norquist, assistant director of spiritual formation at the college who planned the events.

He said Christ's example was to help those in need, such as the "orphans and widows" the Scriptures cites.

"We're trying to figure out who are the orphans and widows among us today," Mr. Norquist said.

The college identified 75 work sites, from Chattanooga to Spring City, for the King Day projects, said Danielle Rebman.

"We had students sign up according to their areas of interest," she said. The baseball team worked on youth baseball fields; computer science students worked on the database at the Rhea County Heritage and Scopes Trial Museum; a "Nicaragua Break for Change" team worked with Hispanics in the area, and so on.

Thomas Katz, a sophomore from Madisonville, Ky., said the work was "a good way to carry on the spirit of what caused the holiday to come to be in the first place."

not just words, action

At Lee University, students were aware of the significance of Martin Luther King Day on the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Stephen Scarbrough said it was important Monday was not just a day off, but an important day to think and "learn about the history."

Kenyn Brown said Dr. King "took so much time to bring freedom and liberty to America." He said with Mr. Obama as president, Dr. King's "words are not just words but actions."

The inauguration does much to fulfill Dr. King's dream, said Brandon Moore.

"He wanted to see America come together," the student said.

A local series of special events in Cleveland ends today with an inauguration celebration at Cleveland State Community College at 6 p.m.

Correspondents Ron Clayton and Tom Davis contributed to this report.