Four great men were honored Monday: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in celebration of his 85th birthday and his legacy; Dr. Eric Holland, assistant principal and boys basketball coach at Tift County High School; Paul Howard, Fulton County district attorney; and Hugh Thompson, chief justice of Georgia Supreme Court.
Several dignitaries, educators and clergymen were present at the celebration, including Mayor Jamie Cater and Vice Mayor Johnny Terrell, who both said a few words and thanked everyone for attending. The call to commemoration was read by Ambrose King Jr., event organizer. He said although King was a civil rights leader, what gave him his courage, strength, stamina and ideology was his faith in God.
“Each year, as we gather to celebrate Dr. King’s life and ministry, we’re called to rededicate ourselves to our true mission — discipleship,” King said, noting Judge Bill Reinhardt encouraged people to recommitment themselves to their community when he spoke at a past commemorative service.
To honor Holland was his Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. brother, Coach Knight.
Emotional, he said it was a privilege and honor to speak a few words about someone dear and special to him who he’s known for the past 30 years as a student, fraternity brother, professional and someone who he considers a true son. He said among his qualities, Holland represents leadership, honesty and integrity. He called him a motivator, encourager and perfectionist at whatever he does.
Knight added that Holland always sees the potential in his students and players and is willing to give of himself. He mentioned some of his successes as an educator and basketball coach, which includes 235 wins and only 55 loses. For the past 10 years, Holland has been assistant principal at TCHS. He’s a member of Mount Olive Baptist Church.
Holland, in tears, hugged Knight following his speech. Holland said what Knight said about him made him feel good, but the most important thing that he tells people is that all the wins and championships are OK, but life is not measured by that to him.
“At the end of the day, success is measured, not by the wins and loses, but what you have to overcome in life,” he said, noting God has the final decision.
Howard, the uncle of professional basketball player Dwight Howard, was introduced by Dougherty County district attorney Gregory Edwards. Edwards said the role of a prosecutor is to find the truth and seek justice. He said district attorneys have a very special role in the criminal justice system and Howard has been a district attorney for a number of years.
“He’s been my colleague for the last several years but before then he was the first African-American district attorney,” he said. “There must be that representation within the criminal justice system so that everyone will have the opportunity to believe that they get a fair shake and everything is done appropriately and no issues of race, color, creed are part of that. That is what I believe Paul Howard represents.”
Howard commented he felt honored to be there. He said he’s accepting his award on behalf of his grandfather who was a sharecropper and never learned to read or write. He said he may live in Atlanta but he’s originally from a small South Georgia town called Midville. He said his grandfather, like King, had a dream for his grandchildren and community. He wanted them to get an equal and quality education and that people would live under equal justice.
Thompson was introduced by King, along with Reinhardt, Eunice Mixon and Judge Melanie Cross, standing by his side. He said Thompson became Georgia’s 30th chief justice Aug. 15 after being elected by an unanimous vote by his colleagues on the bench. He said as chief justice, Thompson presides over court arguments and running the meetings in which the court makes its decisions and chairs the Georgia Judicial Council which governs all levels of the state courts.
Appointed in March of 1994 by then-Gov. Zell Miller to the Supreme Court of Georgia, Thompson was the chief superior court judge of the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit in Milledgeville. He was born in Montezuma and then his family moved to Milledgeville.
Thompson stayed on the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit bench for 25 years before Miller appointed him to the Supreme Court. His awards include the Outstanding Alumnus Award conferred by the alumni of Mercer University Law school, Distinguished Achievement Award from the Baldwin County Bar Association, Outstanding Public Service Award from the Milledgeville Kiwanis Club and the Distinguished Service Award from the Milledgeville Jaycees.
Thompson said, “God speaks to us in many ways and he keeps knocking on our door until hopefully our door will open and we get the message he wants to deliver.” He said he’s extremely grateful and that “today we’re celebrating the life and works of a great man (Dr. King).”
In addition, some people attended the annual MLK Day Parade and Festival by the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Speakers included Sharon Mathis with NAACP, Cater, Terrell, Tift County Commissioners Melissa Chevers and Donnie Hester, City Councilman Chris Parrott and Lillie Bryant with Wells Fargo in Fitzgerald, who spoke on investing in the community’s children.
McDonalds provided hamburgers and tea, local DJ Lee provided music, T&C Auto Repair provided a trailer, the Tifton Police Department escorted the parade and the Tifton-Tift County Fire Department participated, among others.
Those interested in joining the NAACP or to help with next year’s parade, contact Mathis at 392-6335.
To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.