Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The legacies of two men honored during local MLK Holiday Celebration

Dr. Willie F. Tolliver, MLK Day Celebration
Keynote Speaker - Photo by Tami Seaman

The legacies of two men with paralleled missions in life were honored during Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday celebration held at the Ft. Coombs National Guard Armory and hosted by the Love Center Worldwide Ministries and the MLK Advisory Board, co-chaired by Bishop Robert Davis and Apostle Dolores Croom.

In its 28th year of being celebrated locally the annual event held Monday kicked-off with the presentation of Colors led by retired United States Marine Corp Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Reaves and the Leon County High School MCROTC.  The presentation of Colors was followed by the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ and a rousing rendition of the ‘National Anthem’ performed by Franklin County School student Kaleigh Hardy.  Franklin County Judge Van Russell prayed a stirring invocation and Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson welcome the crowd.

Photo by Tami Seaman at Sand Grain Photography

There was an acknowledgment of the elected officials and clergy in attendance by Davis and a musical selection by the Franklin County High School Concert Band, directed by Karl Lester. A poetic tribute to Dr. King by the Seahawk Dreamers followed, along with a big screen video presentation of King’s, ‘I have a Dream’ and ‘The Mountaintop’ orations.

Another rousing musical selection, a rendition of ‘Change is gonna Come’ by legendary soul singer Sam Cooke was covered by Franklin County School students Ursula Countryman and Melody Hatfield accompanied on guitar by Kevin Haeusser. 

Leon County High School MCROTC
Photo by Tami Seaman at Sand Grain Photography

The keynote speaker, Dr. Willie F. Tolliver was introduced by his cousin, friend and classmate, Alfred Goosby, a native of Apalachicola from Valdosta, GA. 

Tolliver, a native of Apalachicola himself, resides in New York and is an associate professor of social work at Hunter College in New York City with a background in psychology.

Before an at capacity crowd inside the Armory, Tolliver recounted his childhood growing up in Apalachicola and credited God for the accomplishments he achieved during his life.   "... clearly, I could not be standing here if it had not been for God”, Tolliver said to a hardy round of applause. 

L-R: Melody Hatfield, Kevin Haeusser and Ursula Countryman
Photo by Tami Seaman at Sand Grain Photography

“From the time that I could remember myself, I was in church with my momma, and I went all the time and then she sent me to Catholic School and we went to mass every day and we would go to the Church of God in Christ on Sunday’s”.

Tolliver titled his remarks about King as, “We have some work to do” and began pointing out the arduous task and challenges Dr. King faced when he accepted the mantle of leading the civil rights movement in the 1950’s.  Injecting that King didn’t want the responsibility of leading the movement, “that man was tormented, his family was bothered with the challenge, people bothered his wife... calling her at night telling her all kinds of things about her husband”, Tolliver said.

Photo by Tami Seaman at Sand Grain Photography

“And he dealt (King) with some of the most difficult situations that I can image… however; we need to understand that Dr. King was standing on the shoulders of other people. There was a tradition, a struggle for justice in this country, but he was standing on the shoulders of people like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass who said, “people who want change without struggle are a people who want crops without plowing the field, they want rain without thundering and lighting, they want the ocean without the mighty roar of the ocean”.  Change requires struggle!  Dr. King stepped into a whole line of people who struggled, and they strategized about how to win justice for the people in this country”, Tolliver said. 

Tolliver told the audience that during the movement that lessons were learned and people were trained to be activist at the Highland Institute… “to get to non-violence you need to heal”… “it’s very difficult to walk out in the street protesting and have someone spit on you, and not want to spit back. It’s difficult to have someone take a club and hit you across your head, or hit your mother or your sister and kill someone right in front of you and not be angry about it”.  “It’s called trauma”, said Tolliver.  

Photo by Tami Seaman at Sand Grain Photography

“Trauma is stored in the brain, and it goes into the body… the people are living in a traumatic situation and they go into what scientists are now telling us is a survival mode.  They can’t think and do higher functioning things, they can’t come to class and sit in a classroom and be happy. They can’t come to the classroom and study math, because you need to have higher brain functioning to work in school, but when you are traumatized and you don’t ever know what is happening, you live in a state of hypervigilance, where you're constantly looking for something bad to happen”.

“I guess you can tell by now my background is in psychology, I teach the theory of human behavior and personality discernment. The reason I teach those two things is one, to help me understand how people heal and to help me understand politically what the policymakers are doing to destroy young people and families in my country.”

Prayer for Franklin County led by Pastor David Walker
Photo by Tami Seaman at Sand Grain Photography

 ‘’Dr. King identified some lesson he had learned during the Montgomery boycott. The movement taught Black people that it was something that we can do ourselves and that all the stuff that had been done to try and make us (Black people) feel less than human... deep inside of us our self-respect was still there”.

“The struggle actually taught people that you can accomplish things, and you don’t have to wait on somebody to come and save you” Tolliver said.

He told the audience that, “Dr. King was trained in the Du Bois tradition to be one of the ‘Talented Tenth’, and the responsibility of the Talented Tenth was to uplift other people.” 

Willie B. Speed Street renaming Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
Photo by Gail D. Johnson

The Talented Tenth was a term that designated a leadership class of African-Americans in the early twentieth century and publicized by W.E.B. Du Bois in an influential essay of the same name, which published in September 1903.
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Tolliver said that it made him happy when he saw on the front cover of the paper announcing that he was coming to speak that Franklin County had, had its first gay couple to get married.

In closing Tolliver said, “The work we have to do is for our children… our children must be educated and it isn’t that some of the children must be educated, all must be educated; if we don’t help our children, who is going to help us when we are 80 and 90 years old”.  

Photo by Gail D. Johnson

At the conclusion of Tolliver’s speech a motorcade led by Apalachicola Police Chief Bobby Varnes commenced through the streets of Apalachicola and stopped at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., formerly Avenue J and 13th Street for a brief ribbon cutting ceremony held by city officials.

The ceremony dedicated the renaming of 13th Street after former educator Willie B. Speed.  In remarks made by Mayor Johnson he thanked the Love Center Worldwide Ministries for collaborating with the city to incorporate the ribbon cutting ceremony into the 2015 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Celebration.

“The renaming of this street is but a small token in comparison to what Mr. Speed actually accomplished toward the education of the entire Franklin County community”, said Johnson.

“It's no coincidence that at this juncture in our lives and at this moment in the history of our city that Willie B. Speed, the educator would intersect with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader.  Both men had paralleled missions in life! Both pursued equality and Justice for all. So it was inevitable that their legacies would eventually intersect, and as an educator Mr. Speed knew that two paralleled lines have a point where they always intersect and that intersection is called infinity”, said Johnson.

“With that and with the renaming and dedication of this street, may the legacy of Mr. Willie B. Speed live on and have no boundaries and may it continue to inspire all those who truly seek equality to pursue it through education”, the mayor concluded.

The motorcade terminated back at the Armory where a luncheon of pizza, chili, and spaghetti were served.