By: Wesley Walter
On Jan. 17, the city of Montevallo held its 19th annual march in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The march, which began on Vine Street, proceeded down Main Street and culminated in a program featuring several speakers at Montevallo High School.
After leading attendees in the march, Rev. Kenneth Dukes, city council member and President of the Shelby County NAACP, introduced the event’s speakers and the Montevallo High School and Middle School Choir, who performed for attendees.
Event speaker and Montevallo city council member Leila Mitchell expressed gratitude the march still took place despite the cold weather. Mitchell said, “It’s an honor that we keep the dream alive. It’s an honor that we march for things that are right and that our children know the real reason for this day.”
Dukes spoke on the significance of the march saying, “It’s to commemorate Dr. King and what he stood for. Most of my kids only know ‘I have a Dream’ they don’t know the totality of it. History sometimes allows you to give them an opportunity to ask questions.”
The march is not only Shelby County’s longest-running annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but Shelby County’s only public citywide celebration of the holiday as well. Dukes spoke on the singularity of the event saying, “Montevallo is the only city in Shelby County that has continued celebration of MLK day. There’s no other city in Shelby County that does it.”
Mitchell, who has taken part in the event all 19 years it has been held, expressed her hopes that more cities in Shelby County will begin holding programs or marches to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, said, “I just wish the other cities would have something planned to do as well. I think we’re the only city in Shelby County that’s really doing something, but I wish it was county-wide.”
Mitchell also expressed her hopes that the event will reach more people in future years and that more young people will become involved, saying, “Today I think we had more young people out, which I was glad of because they need to know the real reason they’re out of school” and, “parents talk to the children so they can know more about it. It’s not just a free day. It’s a national holiday but it’s a service day as well.”
During the presentation at Montevallo High School, Dukes presented community service awards to Montevallo High School Vice Principal Cheryl Allen, choir director Cissy Johnson and Miles College football player Robert Gray Jr., who volunteers at the Birmingham Youth Football League.
Also awarded were representatives from the Mission Continues, a nonprofit devoted to empowering veterans adjust to life after service and the Montevallo chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, a branch of the Freemasons.
Dukes also presented medals to representatives from National Pan-Hellenic Council sororities and fraternities as thanks for their various philanthropic efforts and participation in the march. This included members from Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta, Inc., Omega Psi Phi, Inc. and Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc.
Justice Houser, a member of Montevallo’s Nu Tau chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. spoke on his fraternity’s participation in the event saying, “The Nu Tau chapter here at the campus of the University of Montevallo have actively participated in this event for the last 19 years. As a member of Martin Luther King’s fraternity, we feel like it’s very important that we keep up our participation at this event, because it’s really important for the community.”
Taylor L. Sellers, a member of Montevallo’s Nu Omicron chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. said, “I think it’s really good to go back through our history and also just remember the importance of it because sometimes when we get so caught up in our daily lives – we fail to recognize all the struggles and hard work and dedication that other people have put before us.”
Shelby County NAACP Vice President Bobby J. Pierson introduced honoree Joseph Hampton, the President of Alabama and Mississippi Spire Energy, who was presented the title of Man of the Year by the Shelby County NAACP.
In his speech, Hampton called for attendees to continue fighting for justice and equality, saying, “My challenge to all of us today is to pick up where Dr. King left off.” and “We must come together in unity for the betterment of us all in order to live out the vision that Dr. King dreamed about. Today many of our communities are fractured due to the inequalities that have persisted in our state and our country for far too long, and although the fight for equity and inclusion has improved in recent years, we still have a long way to go.”