In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy and pursuit of unity, Mercer students spent their Monday off actively engaged with the Macon community at the 25th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast Celebration and following march to the Government Center.
At the breakfast, Mercer students greeted patrons at the door, doled out food from behind the counter and delivered meals to tables. When everyone was served, young adults from various Bibb County public schools were recognized on stage for demonstrating exceptional character through service. Henry Covington, Jr., an elementary schooler from Macon, then presented a passionate excerpt from Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech that had the audience cheering.
Some of the speeches given addressed the dissatisfaction that arises from persistent inequality, but there were also facilitated discussions about how to make the changes in our system that bring satisfaction and peace.
Cameron Pennybacker is a member of the committee that puts on the King Day breakfast every year and the CEO of Diversity Assets, a nonprofit dedicated to community reform and social justice. He said some changes that are coming to the area following the national controversy surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of white police officers.
“Sheriff Davis is doing some remarkable things in response to body cameras, for instance, so out of the strings of cultural context and residual racism in this country, there are really some things we can move forward with, and body cameras are one,” he said. He also emphasized the need for municipal court reform and support of the public school system.
According to Pennybacker, there were people from all over Macon at the breakfast. “Our Hindu community was represented here,” he said. “Our Muslim community was represented.” He said that he hopes to have those individuals “up front” in the future.
Marissa McKee is a Mercer student that is also involved with Strong Tower Fellowship, a church that serves the Pleasant Hill neighborhood. “I think this event is a really good opportunity for the community to come together, but I think we can be pushed a little farther,” she said. “It’s a good time to reflect each year, but there definitely is more to be done. And my hope is that, from this event, people will not only reflect, but do.”
Mercer students and faculty joined in at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March following the breakfast alongside the M. A. Evans Elementary School Band and residents who live in the Beall’s hill area.
The marchers came over the slope of Coleman Avenue singing hymns, a banner stretching in front of them. They approached from the Unionville direction, their voices growing louder, and everyone at the corner gradually fell into the crowd with the small marching band leading the way.
The west marchers were quite the bunch: residents pushed their children in strollers, old women strolled in jumpsuits and scarves, and men walked with small boys riding on their shoulders. A megaphone kept changing hands as people led hymns, and later chants, that mixed with the drumbeat at the front.
“Participating in the march is a sort of service to the community,” said Hannah Vann, Mercer’s Coordinator of Community Engagement. “It’s a statement. Anyone who participates in the march makes the statement that they stand for equality, justice, and fair treatment.”
Vann said that in the past, Mercer has coordinated a day of service on the holiday but that this year, she wanted to serve differently. “Sometimes, [service] means being supportive. Sometimes it means showing up,” she said.“Volunteering is good. Doing for others is good. But it’s also important to do with [others].”
Together, everyone marched from College Street to Forsyth Street, picking up more and more people at each intersection, until meeting up with the marchers from the east, north, and south sides of the city at the Government Center on Poplar Street. There was a small rally where various community leaders such as Rev. Richard Gammage, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert, and Bibb County Sheriff David Davis spoke about strengthening the community through a shared pursuit of unity, and justice.
Macon resident Shequita Maxwell said that above all, we need to find peace. “Peace has to start with the individual. Until you find your inner peace, you can’t do anything in the community, cause it has to start with your self.”
On the walk back to campus, Mercer student Sam Osakue said that he’s coming away from this march feeling like there are still issues with diversity in the country, displayed in everything from events like Ferguson to something as simple as who gets nominated for Oscars. “Diversity matters,” he said.
Jordan Coleman, a Mercer freshman, was also reflecting on the day. “I feel empowered,” he said. “Motivated to try and make a positive change in the world.”