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January 22, 2013

‘The dream is a reality’

Community celebrates MLK legacy

When Anna Ellison, president of the local Women’s Community Club, was younger, she was forced to attend a “below par ‘colored’ school,” she said. She smiled when she remembered a time before Martin Luther King Jr. Smiled because “we’ve come so far.”

“I didn’t realize how bad things were back then. A lot of us just accepted inequality as part of life,” Ellison said. “Now that I’ve seen things improve over the years, I realize how much we (African-Americans) had been stepped on by others. But today, it is so good to see so much unity. We as a people have come so far, but still have further to go.”

Ellison was one of several who remembered King on Monday for his work in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Celebrations took place at the Mack Gaston Community Center in Dalton, where a prayer breakfast was held, and at the Emery Center in Dalton, where tours were given focusing on civil rights history and the center presented the History Channel documentary “King.” The Emery Center is in a building that once was a school for black children and that now showcases the area’s black history and culture.

King was remembered for “not thinking about himself, but others,” said Melanie Prather, who spoke at a wreath laying ceremony earlier in the day, held at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Walnut Avenue. Several who attended the ceremony sang the lyrics to “We Shall Overcome,” a protest song written by Charles Tindley and used heavily during the civil rights movement.

“The dream is a reality now,” Prather told the crowd. “The dream lives on today ... but to keep it going we cannot be just about good intention. We have to be about good actions.”

The best action to better the world is in education, Dalton Mayor David Pennington said at the ceremony.

“I challenge everyone to strengthen our community,” he said. “The major struggle today, as it was in King’s time, is poverty. And poverty is not about race inequality, or class inequality, but educational inequality. That’s why our community has started the Readers to Leaders program. We must take the initiative. We can no longer wait for (government officials in) Washington or Atlanta to solve our problems.”

Pennington said the program will help local children by creating reading and nutrition programs, helping parents to learn how to care for their children, and provide library and health care resources for families to generate a better education.

Charmaine Jones, who recently received her bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of West Georgia,  said she knows the importance of getting an education. It’s an education that began with her mother, Marlene Jones.

“She has always taken me to events like this one (the wreath laying),” Jones said of her mother. “She always taught me to value education.”

Sometimes by force, Marlene Jones joked.

“I’d drag my kids out to these things no matter what,” she said with a laugh. “But that’s because it is just so important. And the one thing I noticed that was lacking from today’s ceremony was participation by our children. Our children need to know how important the civil rights movement was because when we (the older generation) are gone, they’ll have to take over.”

To take over, the younger generation will have to be prepared for hard work, Ellison said.

“My generation worked very hard to have the opportunities we now have,” she said. “I think sometimes people need to remember hard work. So many people want a successful job right now, but instead they do illegal things because they want it all right now and don’t want to work. The young generation doesn’t want to work like we did. I know that’s not what they want to hear, but I think it’s very true and needs to be said more often. You have to work very hard to get a good life, a good job. They need to know that.”

Dionna Reynolds, public relations and marketing director for the Emery Center, agrees.

“We have to make sure that generations like myself, who didn’t go through the civil rights movement but benefited from it, are aware of what we can do,” Reynolds said. “We have to teach our children the same. I think that we’ve made progress, but a lot more could be done.”

Volunteerism is the best option to help progress, Reynolds added.

“Look at where your gifts and talents are and look at what’s available,” she said. “United Way offers volunteer opportunities and ways to serve, we’re looking for volunteers to help us with tours and to help the community learn about Dalton history, state history, national history and international history. Just find a way to offer up to your cause. As we reflect on Dr. King, we’re reminded that no matter where you are you can be of service to humanity.”

His service and perseverance are two qualities that make King inspiring to millions, said Lynette Perez, a volunteer at the community center.

“He was my hero growing up,” she said. “I remember doing a report on him in high school. What he taught was that if you have a dream, you keep going after it despite the adversity. Continue on and don’t let anyone get in your way. That’s what I believe. That’s what we remember.”

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