Natasha Hillsman is always amazed when she stands in front of the crowds that annually turn out for the Martin Luther King, Jr., Business Luncheon at noon Friday, Jan. 14.
Hillsman, chair of the event that moved from the Denso Manufacturing campus to the Airport Hilton, said she enjoys seeing the variety of people who attend and this year’s event was no exception.
“It is the strength of our community support,” she said. “When you see all the representatives from all the businesses, government agencies and organizations, it is impressive,” she said. “It went very well.”
Hillsman said the luncheon drew more than 280 people. Sharon Hannum, chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Planning Committee, was amazed at the turnout and said she also enjoyed the message from keynote speaker and former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale.
Ragsdale spearheaded the Knox Achieves program that funds “last dollar” scholarships for any students who graduate from a school in Knox County to attend a two-year state college. It was the model for which Hannum and others launched Blount Achieves, which will award its first scholarships this year. “We have 72 applications and a selection committee will meet in March,” Hannum said.
Hillsman said she enjoyed Ragsdale’s comments. “He definitely has a passion for education,” she said. “I think he has a good understanding of where there are gaps.”
Hillsman said all the sponsors as well as those who bought tickets for the luncheon made the luncheon successful. “Alcoa, Inc., is a very good sponsor. They do the brochure every year. Denso also sponsors the luncheon,” she said. “Every company that buys a ticket helps. You’ve got to have community support.”
Hannum said the crowds continued Friday night at the Celebration committee’s sponsored “movie night.” The movie, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” at The Palace Theater also drew a capacity crowd. “We had record crowds at both events,” Hannum said. “The Palace has 210 seats, and we were turning people away.”
The theme of this year’s celebration is “Reviving the Spirit and Realizing the Dream.” Hannum said the committee chose the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck because the film seemed relevant to issues people talk about today.
Hannum said it had been years since she had seen the film, but it brought back memories of the realities of racism in American culture in the 1950s. Hannum said that while the country has come a long way, there is still work to be done in the justice system.