By Jaya Franklin and Joel Hall
Starting next weekend, elected officials, religious leaders, and service organizations will host a series of events throughout the Southern Crescent to honor the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Henry County's Southern Christian Leadership Conference leaders will conduct events beginning Jan. 19, to celebrate the life of the civil rights leader, who was a co-founder of SCLC and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
"Dr. King was such a vital part to any community and the world as a whole," said Trina Baynes, president of Henry County's chapter of SCLC.
The Henry County chapter was re-established in 2007, and is encouraging people to come out to show their appreciation. "I mean, just the fact that we have the right to vote, and that we can attend any school, or go into any bathroom [gives credit to Dr. King]," said Baynes.
The President of the Henry County SCLC explained that there are several reasons why people should observe the King Holiday. "King affects all of us, including me. [But] not just African Americans. We all are benefactors of the movement," she said.
Percy Butler, a member of SCLC, business leader and retired military officer, said he believes one of the reasons that the King holiday is downplayed in Henry County is because most of the people who live, or conduct business, in the county are not from the county.
"Some things are low key, because many of the people are transplants and haven't been embedded like folks from the South," said Butler.
Baynes revealed that the King family has a direct connection to Henry County.
"Henry County is the home of Daddy King. He was born and raised here," Baynes said.
Baynes believes young people should get involved with the King holiday and take a stand as leaders all over the world. "Without young people, we cease to exist," said Baynes. "This benefits the nation as a whole."
Butler believes young people can lead this nation, but someone else has to be willing to teach them. "The youth are derivative of the adults, therefore the adults have to be prepared to pass the torch, not hold on to it," he said.
In Clayton County, the Concerned Black Citizens Coalition of Clayton County (CBCCCC) will host its 16th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Prayer Breakfast and 23rd Annual Ecumenical Service in celebration of the national observance of the King holiday.
The Prayer Breakfast will take place on Saturday, Jan. 19, at 8 a.m., at the Fort Gillem Army Base Getaway Club in Forest Park. The Ecumenical Service will be on Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3:30 p.m., at Greater St. Peter African Methodist Episcopal Church at 9540 Fayetteville Road in Jonesboro.
The Prayer Breakfast will offer prayers of unity for the citizens and elected officials of Clayton County. State Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), who has served as the founder and president of the CBCCCC for the last 23 years, said that prayer is a "need" in Clayton County.
"I believe that prayer changes things -- always," said Davenport. "It's a good way for business leaders, elected officials, religious leaders, and all the members of the community to come together."
Speaking at this year's prayer breakfast is Herman "Skip" Mason, a historian and archivist for Morehouse College. Davenport said Mason's deep knowledge of African-American history provides a vital asset to the service.
"He has done a great deal of service and that embodies the ideals of King, so we are very happy to have him," she said.
The cost of the breakfast is $15 for those aged 13 and older, and $7.50 for those 12 and under. Proceeds from the event will be donated to Morris Brown College.
The Ecumenical Service celebrating the King holiday is the longest-running program of the CBCCCC. The program began when the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., was just another day on the calendar, rather than a nationally celebrated occasion.
"At that time, the schools weren't closed on Martin Luther King Day and the government wasn't closed. We felt like this started something," Davenport said.
The service will begin with a procession of clergy from throughout the Southern Crescent and will feature T. DeWitt Smith, Jr., the 18th president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., as guest speaker.
This is the second year St. Peter has hosted the 23-year-old Ecumenical Service.
"They are more than welcome to come here for 23 more years," said Isaiah Waddy, head pastor of Greater St. Peter AME Church. "We're glad to have them."
Waddy said it is crucial for all people, but especially young people, to remember the sacrifices of Dr. King.
"We know it's important that we keep his memory, his legacy, and his dream fresh," said Waddy. "Being a product of the '60s, I knew the significance of the struggle. I grew up in south Georgia and I remember colored water fountains and going to the side window for service and things like that.
"[King's death] was a great loss for us," said Waddy. "I don't want us to ever stop remembering him."