The Rev. Paula L. McGee offered highlights of the best and the worst at a noon luncheon on Friday, Jan. 12. She was the keynote speaker for the annual Business Luncheon celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., celebration events.
McGee, a native of Flint, Mich., spoke to a packed room of more than 150 for the luncheon at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Alcoa
McGee, a member of the 1983 and 1984 University of Southern California national champion womens basketball teams, was a new face to many in the room, but it wasnt the first time Blount County commissioner Monika Murrell had met her.
Murrell was a member of the Bentley High School (Michigan) womens basketball team in 1978-79. Her high school team played McGees team and lost, and Murrell remembered McGee and her sister as fierce competitors.
"We had a small school," Murrell said at the luncheon. "I remember the McGee girls. They were known for being good athletes. Their reputation was great."
After playing at USC, McGee played five seasons of professional basketball in Europe. She is now an ordained minister. She was enthusiastic about the opportunity to preach and speak in the new year.
"This is the first time I get to do what I feel called to do in 2007," she said. "I do know I am called to preach the good news, whether in a pulpit or on a bus."
Getting to talk about King was an added bonus. "Im always excited when I get to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King," she said.
McGee referred to the opening lines of the Charles Dickens story "A Tale of Two Cities" while talking about race relations now versus what they were like during Kings time: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
"Maybe these are the best of times -- when streets are named after Martin Luther King, even if those streets are often in the worst parts of town," she said.
McGee said Kings message never wavered regardless of who was listening. "He was a prophet who spoke the truth to power," she said.
These could be the best of times if people embrace the principles of his dream of equality, McGee said.
"It is the worst of times if his dream becomes a fantasy," she said. "It is the worst of times if all we do is talk about King and make him like another icon. His dream has to push us to make it work in our everyday life. I want each of you to make sure its not a fantasy, but a reality. Bloom where youre planted."
McGee said if each of the listeners woke up in reasonably good health that morning, then God has a special work for them to do.
"My point is, each of you has gifts and talents encoded in your spiritual DNA," she said.
When individuals are bold enough to take a leap of faith, they see God is with them. McGee said King took those bold steps and became more than just a preacher. "He decided there was a bigger calling and did a PhD for intellectual credibility," she said. "He was not afraid to speak even when the current situations didnt allow him to."
Melissa Copelan, Alcoa, Inc., community relations manager, served as MC for the event, and she encouraged those present not to think of MLK Day as a "day off" but rather a "day on" to take action on community concerns. Copelan said that while it may have been politically correct to be seen at the luncheon, she charged those present not to be about being seen. "Be about making progress everyday, not just once a year," Copelan said.