By Danza Johnson / NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Those who attended the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Black Tie Affair at St. Paul Life Center Saturday preached one thing – unity.
No matter who you talked to at the event, unity was on everyone’s wish list for 2011 and beyond. Many said this MLK celebration was an important one for all the people of Lee County, especially because of racial issues that have surfaced in the community the past few years.
“It’s 2011 and Dr. King’s dream seems to be lost to many of the people in our community,” said Eula Mabry. “Everything is about race and it shouldn’t be that way. I think Dr. King would be disappointed in the way things are turning in our community. Black against white, white against black and so forth. I hope that tonight starts a new vision of true racial unity. Dr. King would have wanted it that way.”
Benton County Superintendent Patrick Washington was the keynote speaker. Washington, the youngest superintendent in the state at age 35, said he was humbled to be chosen to speak and hoped his words would help unify people.
“Anytime you get to speak to people about the overall legacy of Dr. King it’s an honor,” said Washington. “We are a result of that legacy, so I’m happy to be able to tell people about how I feel about him and his lessons. We all have a serious charge to remember his teachings and those of others who aided in the fight but didn’t get the same publicity. This is important.”
Washington said King’s words and legacy were meant for all ears, not just those of blacks.
“His words were meant for everyone,” he said. “All people should learn and live by them.”
To see Washington – a young black man – in such a position was proof enough to James O’Neal that King’s dream was now a reality, he said.
“This young man is a living, breathing example of a dream come true, said O’Neal. “His opportunity came from the actions of Dr. King so it’s more than fitting that he is the keynote speaker for this event. It gives me chills to think about how far we’ve come.”
In its 23rd year, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Black Tie Affair has served as the community’s MLK awareness and appreciation program. Kenneth Mayfield, one of the events organizers, said he believes the program gets better every year.