For the past 20 years, Sweet Home Baptist Church has hosted a service to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, and per usual, there was standing room only. Mayor Ronnie was there, as was Athens City Councilman Frank Travis, Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson, Limestone County Commissioner Ben Harrison, and others. The Round Island Male Chorus “raised the roof,” as they always do, as did the Athens High School Choir.
And, as much as remembering the legacy of Dr. King was the focus, it became far more about the future of Athens as proven by what’s going on with our kids. The annual MLK Essay contest has gone from having 50 contestants last year, to more than 400 entries this year. The theme was “Advancing the Dream: A Nation of Freedom and Justice,” and the 1st Prize winner for the high school division was Raven Warner.
An excerpt from her essay is being featured in her mother Jackie’s column, “The View From The Bridge”. Tanner High School student Chadarius Townsend was the recipient of the 1st Annual Jimmy W. Gill Youth Leadership Award, and the whole day, including the earlier gathering at the Event Center, and the parade around the Square illustrated the truth of the following quote made by Paul Kageyama, author of “For The Love Of Cities”:
“When we have an emotional connection to our place, we are less likely to leave it, and far more likely to champion and defend it in the face of criticism.”
As we met for our time together on Tuesday, we talked about the importance of loving Athens for the special place that it is, as well as our concern for our nation. “We need to focus on healing our nation, and that starts in our city,” said Mayor Ronnie. “And, if we don’t get our kids involved, we won’t grow,” he added.
The building of the future of Athens, and the healing of our nation depends on leadership. One of the things being done is to give kids a chance to become true leaders. “The Chamber Youth Leadership Program has the kids developing business plans,” said the Mayor. He was also happy to add, “And, three of the kids who participated in the essay contest are in the Mayor’s Youth Commission.” He also talked about the role that Spark Academy and the Renaissance School play, and how they are meeting the needs of kids in a different way.
As always, he encouraged people to talk about what needs to be fixed, “in a respectful way, of course,” he said with a chuckle, and said, “We will get the potholes fixed.” We talked about Kageyama’s book, and how it was affecting us, and he made me laugh out loud when he said, “If I don’t invest in this community, I am an idiot!”
It was time to pray and thank God for all the good in the town we love, which we did, and then, Ronnie rolled on out of the office to his next labor of love.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner