By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – Civil Rights legend Myrlie Evers-Williams celebrated her birthday a little early on Saturday with several hundred admirers in Tupelo.
She was the recipient of the first Lifetime Achievement Award given by the inaugural ourMississippi Honors diversity gala.
“I’m almost speechless. … I am deeply touched,” she said.
Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, turns 81 on Monday.
The ourMississippi Honors program was organized by event chairman Wesley Wells, who saw it as an opportunity to recognize the diversity efforts of individuals and companies in the Magnolia State.
Evers-Williams being given the first Lifetime Achievement Award was an “easy decision,” he said.
“The award recognizes those who have made a significant difference in our state, but it won’t always be someone high-profile like Ms. Evers-Williams,” Wells said.
The corporate diversity award winners were AT&T, Caesars Entertainment Corp., Caterpillar Inc., Entergy, Kimberly-Clark, Nissan North America and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi.
“We know we’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve come so very far,” Wells said. “And we wanted to show what can happen in Mississippi.”
The keynote speaker was Stedman Graham, chairman and CEO of S. Graham and Associates, a management and consulting company. Graham, known also as the longtime companion of Mississippi native Oprah Winfrey, gave a rousing presentation that drew accolades from the audience, including Evers-Williams.
Graham’s message was that individuals should create their own futures, and not be boxed in by color, race, sex, religion or other labels that hold people back from their potential.
“You have to take control and define yourself,” he said. “Most people will never turn their brains on. You’ll never be able to perform at the highest level, talent and abilities until you do.”
He also said the challenge for a person isn’t falling down – it’s getting up again, time after time.
Evers-Williams related that message to her life and the challenges she and her family faced. She said she was reminded of that last year when she saw the rifle that killed her husband 51 years ago, and how the fight for justice and equality will never end.
“I’ll always envision the firing of that bullet. … That helped propel me forward, to make a point that we are going to succeed. We still have so much to do.”