Community will celebrate diversity with rememberances of Martin Luther King, Jr.

An annual celebration kicks off next Wednesday when the community has the opportunity to celebrate diversity with a host of activities in honor of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The events offer a slice of diversity themselves, with everything from a business luncheon to a parade to a worship service.

The MLK Celebration Events are planned for Jan. 10-15 and are being led this year by MLK Planning Committee Chair Anthony Dunnings, with assistance from many committee heads, the Blount County Chamber of Commerce, MLK Community Center and Parks and Recreation.

Featured speakers include Paula L. McGhee, Rev. Dr. Alvin H. Smith, and Bishop James Edward Swanson, Sr. McGhee will speak at the Business Luncheon at noon, Friday, Jan. 12, at the MLK Community Center, 209 East Franklin Street. Rev. Dr.

Smith is the guest speaker at Community Worship Service on Sunday, Jan. 14, at St. John Missionary Baptist Church.
Bishop Swanson is the featured speaker at the MLK Celebration Program on Monday, Jan. 15, at Wilson Chapel, Maryville College.

Rev. McGhee, a native of Flint, Michigan, played college basketball at the University of Southern California, helping her team win back-to-back National Championships in 1983 and 1984. After college, Rev. McGhee embarked upon a professional career which included a tryout for the Harlem Globetrotters and a season with the Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s American Basketball Association. She also played several seasons in Italy and Spain.

McGhee ended her basketball career to pursue her life’s calling to preach. She earned a Masters of Divinity for the Interdenominational Theological Center, a Masters of Arts in Religion from Vanderbilt University and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Women’s Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University.

Dr. Smith has been a licensed, ordained minister with more than 20 years in the ministry, including congregations in Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. His teaching career includes many school systems where he served as physical education teacher, guidance counselor and special education instructor. He is presently an instructor with the Knoxville Interdenominational Bible Institute, is married and has two children.

Bishop Swanson served as pastor of the St. Mary’s Road United Methodist Church from 1987 - 2007. The church grew from 16 active members to an average worship attendance of 525 with a membership of 950. Bishop Swanson was active in his community during this time and served as the Chairman of the Housing Authority which receive a multi million dollar Hope IV Grant to revitalize a once blighted community. Swanson was the first African-American chair of the South Georgia Annual Conference Council on Ministries and completed eight years as a member of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. He holds a degree in Christian ministries from Southern Bible College and a master of divinity degree from C.H.
Mason Seminary, Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. He is a candidate for a doctorate degree in evangelism from Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

The Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference elected James Swanson a Bishop of the United Methodist Church. He was consecrated and assigned as the resident Bishop of the Holston Annual Conference.

On the celebration calendar are:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 10, 6 p.m.
    Community Fellowship Dinner at New Providence Presbyterian Church
    The official kick-off for the weekend activities. Everyone is invited and bring a side dish or dessert to share.
  • Friday, Jan. 12, Noon
    Business Luncheon at MLK Community Center, 209 East Franklin Street.
    The cost of this event is $25 and payable in advance. Due to limited space, this event is reserved seating only. For reservations, please call Cindy at the Blount County Chamber of Commerce at 865-983-2241.
  • Saturday, Jan. 13, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
    Family Fun Day for Children (ages 3 -9) Birthday Celebration for Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Blount County Public Library inside the Dorothy Heron Room A. Parents are asked to accompany all children. Free.
  • Sunday, Jan. 14, 4 p.m.
    Community Worship Service at St. John Missionary Baptist Church. This event is free and open to the public.
  • Monday, Jan. 15, 1 p.m.
    Parade to Maryville College, beginning at the MLK Community Center
  • Monday, Jan. 15, 2:45 p.m.
    Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Program at Wilson Chapel, Maryville College.
    Following the parade, the Celebration Program, featuring Bishop Swanson, begins at Wilson Chapel. Features include music, fellowship, speakers and celebrations.

For more information, please call the Blount County Chamber of Commerce at 865-983-2241 or Anthony Dunnings at Parks and Recreation, MLK Community Center at 865-983-1954.

In the beginning

The Blount County celebration of MLK began with the vision of Sara L. Moss before the country had an official Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. Sara Moss, writing for the official MLK program that will be distributed at the celebration, remembers the beginning in this excerpt from the program:

Where there is no vision, the people perish. . .
Proverbs 29:18

By Sara L. Moss
(An excerpt from the MLK program booklet)
"Celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a vision that I incurred and acted upon before the celebration itself became law. I envisioned this for about two or three years before it became a reality because I was busy celebrating my son Michael’s birthday. Ironically he was born on the 15th of January as well. While celebrating my son’s birthday I could not help but remember the legacy of Dr. King and how it wasn’t being celebrated in our community. I shared my concerns with our Pastor following one of our Sunday morning worship services. Without any hesitation he was all for it and volunteered to help in any way he could.

"I remembered visiting Dr. King’s home in the early morning of May 1968. I was in Atlanta with my family and a very good friend. We had traveled there for the funeral services of Dr. King. When we arrived, we weren’t sure of our exact location. All we knew is that we had arrived. We continued to drive around looking for some place to have breakfast. I recall it being a very quiet and somewhat somber morning. There was not much traffic and very little activity, except for this one particular home that we passed. Little did we know that God was leading us to the home of Dr. and Mrs. King. As we passed this particular home, something caught our eye. A man dressed in a very nice suit was walking up the walkway of this home, then something that he was carrying caught our eyes and captured our attention. He was carrying two of the largest, loveliest, most eye-catching flower arrangements we had ever seen. That sparked our curiosity! We backed the car up and veered closer. We saw men dressed in uniforms around this home. We took note that they had guns. On the porch a man was talking on what appeared to be a walkie-talkie. The man carrying the flowers went inside the home. Yes! God had led us to the home Dr. and Mrs. King had shared together. After talking with the Secret Service men, introducing ourselves and letting them know where we were from and why we were there, they gave us permission to go inside. They took our cameras because no pictures were allowed inside. We were told that Mrs. King and Mrs. Kennedy were in the kitchen; their privacy had to be respected. Somewhere in the archives of this historical event, our names appear in the guestbook of Mrs. King: signed - friends of the family from Alcoa, TN.

"Being a friend of the family would make you want to do something to help keep their memory alive. It was a very hot day in Atlanta. We were among millions of people that lined the streets awaiting the funeral processional: Dr. King’s casket sat atop a wagon pulled by a team of mules, followed by his family, friends and so many marchers. We weren’t able to get inside Morehouse College that day, but just to sit outside on the grounds - to be there in the midst of it all was grandeur enough. Hoping in some way that Dr. King’s family knew that our prayers were with them and that we were giving thanks to God for having sent Martin to live among us, even if it was only for a little while.

"We celebrated Dr. King’s legacy on January 15, 1982, at Rest Haven Missionary Baptist Church in Alcoa. We had an unexpected crowd that night and as the pews began to fill, the butterflies began their triumphant entry within my sister and me. We looked at each other, drew strength, and knew that God was well pleased. My son, Robert Jr. and my sister’s son, David Jr. were flag bearers. This opened the first celebration services for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We focused a lot on the young people of the church, hoping to instill values and teachings about the price of "freedom." Rev. Carr, Pastor of Rest Haven, was the keynote speaker. He received a standing ovation following his sermon, "The Price of Freedom."

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