By Shawn Nowlin
More than six decades ago, four words changed history forever: “I have a dream.”
If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were alive today, he would likely marvel at the progress that’s been made while simultaneously advocating for more to get done.
While it’s common knowledge that Dr. King was arguably the most prominent leader in the civil rights movement, how a federal holiday in his honor came to be is not as known.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed Martin Luther King Jr. Day into law, with its first observance happening three years later. Today, communities all over the world recognize MLK Day, which annually falls on the third Monday of January.
The 25th annual celebratory breakfast, presented by the Roanoke Valley Alumni Chapter of North Carolina A&T University, occurred at the Hotel Roanoke.
After a greeting from Diane Jones, Rev. Lee Pusha gave the invocation before attendees were treated to the traditional breakfast spread.
“Dr. King described faith as ‘taking the first step when you don’t see the whole staircase.’ By never losing faith, this alumni chapter continues to blaze trails,” Lafonda Jernigan said.
Various businesses and organizations reserved tables well in advance of the sold-out gathering. A who’s who of attendees, ranging from chapter president Angelia Sweetenberg to retired educator Fletcher Nichols, arrived dressed to the nines.
Recalling the day that Dr. King was killed, an emotional Nichols said to all in attendance, “I was scared. Two years later, forced integration happened, and I had to go to the white school where we were called the ‘N’ word by our teachers on a regular basis. But his words kept ringing in my head: ‘I have a dream.’”
Directed by Bernadette “BJ” Lark, pianist DeRon Lark and singers Lilly Callis, a Fishburn Park Elementary pupil, and Cheriece Davis performed a moving musical selection. Giving people a platform to display their talents has long been a passion of BJ’s.
Dr. Alan Bagby introduced this year’s guest speaker, the Honorable Glenda A. Hatchett, a judge, lawyer and television personality. A familiar face to the Black community at large. Within seconds of gracing the stage it became crystal clear why she is such a renowned figure.
“I had so much fun in a local boutique yesterday that it is a wonder that I ever left. I used to try and pass for young, but now I have to wear glasses,” Hatchett said to much laughter and applause. “My parents did not play. One of the first words that I learned to spell and read was ‘colored.’ I am old enough to remember the picket lines in the segregated south.”
Minutes later, she added, “Dr. King once said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ If ever there was a time that we need to re-weave the fabric of this country, it is now.”
The event concluded with everyone participating in the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”