Martin Luther King Jr. Day has celebratory spirit at Clayton Center

Walking down Franklin Street from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center to the Clayton Center for the Arts at Maryville College are, from left, Aliyah Wilder and her grandmother Mary.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Walking down Franklin Street from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center to the Clayton Center for the Arts at Maryville College are, from left, Aliyah Wilder and her grandmother Mary.

Monday was a special day to remember the legacy of a civil rights leader and to recognize two special people in the community.

Shirley Carr-Clowney and Bill Watts were honored during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and March on Jan. 17.

The parade march started at 12:30 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Alcoa and ended on the campus of Maryville College where the celebration was held in the Clayton Center for the Arts at 2 p.m.

The theme for this year’s series of MLK events is “Revive the Spirit, Realize the Dream.”

Sharon Hannum, chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, said Bill Watts of Louisville was this year’s parade grand marshal, leading those who walked from the community center to the college campus.

“He has served his community generously and has served it well. Since his health has declined in the last few years, he has scaled back, but his heart is as big as it always has been,” Hannum said. “He spent years working with youth coaching football teams, working with Habitat for Humanity. He has been on the MLK planning committee, and he has been a tremendous force in the community.”

During the celebration held at the Clayton Center for the Arts, Clowney was named the Anthony Dunnings Community Service Award winner.

Dunnings died of natural causes at home Feb. 5, 2008. He was the director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and a much-loved resident in Blount County.

“When we were talking about who would be the recipient of the Anthony Dunnings Community Service Award, we reviewed the criteria,” Hannum said.

The winner has to exhibit selfless service, service to the community and be someone who gives generously of their time and of their energy. “Shirley came to mind. She definitely embodies service and doesn’t do it for the wrong reasons,” Hannum said. “She does it out of true love for her neighbors, friends and the place in which she lives. I was really honored to be able to give our award to Shirley.”

Hannum was pleased with the number of people who showed at the celebration. “We had 400 people turn out,” she said of the event at the Clayton Center. The crowd was not disappointed, either, said Hannum. “Rev. Dr. Gloria Wright did an awesome job.”

Wright, author of the book “From the Back of the Line, Views of a Teenager from the 1960s Civil Rights Movement,” outlined principles the listeners should apply during 2011.

“Strive to be a servant, be prayerful, live your lives in a way that glorifies the Lord, live a debt-free life. Being financially free is as important as being physically free,” Hannum said. “She said we think of being in chains physically, but there is more than one way to be enslaved.”

Wright said she focused her comments on scripture from Matthew, Chapter 25.

“I was trying to say if Dr. King were alive today, he would say the same thing as found in the scriptures: ‘To honor me, I want you to do service. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, offer water to those who are thirsty,” she said.

Wright, who marched in the civil rights movement during the 1960s as a teen, said folks should remember the reason for the holiday.

“It has been said it is not a day off,” she said. “It is supposed to be a day on, not a day to take off and clean your blinds, but serve God’s people.”

For teens today, Wright said those who say they don’t need to learn about the civil rights movement are wrong. “Students who would always say, ‘Why should we learn about civil rights and Dr. King? We weren’t in that time period.’ I say to them, when I was in school I used to say I wasn’t a slave, but I had to learn American history,” Wright said. “It is not that you learned it because it was in vogue. You needed to learn it so you know your past and can know what to do with your future.”

Wright said her principles for 2011 are:

• “Become a servant of God’s people.

• Reach out and touch the least, the last and the lost.

• Be a registered voter and vote your conscience.

• Teach children and their children their history.

• Get a college education and a vocational education.

• Get out of debt.

• Teach children to respect their bodies and to stop making gods out of their cell phones. Children should respect authority and be sensible. Guard your eyes and ears, stay away from pornography, remain positive and respect all cultures.”

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