In King's honor

Prayer breakfast commemorates 45th anniversary of his assassination

Pastor George Dix Jr., center, receives the Drum Major for Justice Award from Rodney Long, president of the King Commision, during the Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast. Right is his wife, Lady Michelle Dix.

ELIZABETH HAMILTON/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 2:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 2:55 p.m.

Tears of joy flowed from the eyes of Vernita Mitchell as she stood next to her 19-year-old son Freddy Holmes Jr. as he received the inaugural "Drum Major for Justice Scholarship Award" at the 6th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the civil rights leader's assassination.

Held last Thursday at the Best Western Gateway Grand, the breakfast, which was attended by close to 200 residents, was sponsored by the African American Accountability Alliance of Alachua County, the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida and the Alachua County branch of the NAACP.

King was shot on April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis.

Also honored was Pastor George Dix Jr., founder and senior pastor of PASSAGE Family Church, who received the 2013 Drum Major for Justice Award, which is awarded each year to a faith-based leader who demonstrates the deeds and principles on non-violent change championed by King.

Instead of a keynote speaker, the audience got a chance to view "The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306," a documentary by the Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles that focuses on the last hours of King's life. Kyles, who has served as pastor of Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis since 1959, was on the balcony near King when he was shot.

Pastor Mark Vega, senior pastor of Ignite Life Center in Gainesville, prayed for world healing, and his wife, the Rev. Lisa Vega, prayed for racial harmony. Mark Vega also presided over the breakfast.

Diyonne McGraw, vice president of the King Commission, introduced Holmes, who, she said, was involved in an altercation at Gainesville High School in 2011 in which he was criminally charged. She said he committed to turning his life around while going through the juvenile justice system, and now has a 3.01 GPA with plans to major in business administration when he enrolls at Florida Memorial College in Miami in the fall.

Holmes said receiving the scholarship is one of the highlights of his life.

"It's just overwhelming, and I am thankful for my mom, my pastor (the Rev. Dr. Freeman Gallmon at Mount Moriah Baptist Church) and Mr. Darry Lloyd (leader of the Mount Moriah youth department), who I call my uncle, for always supporting me," Holmes said.

After the presentation, his mom said she was overwhelmed with emotion because she is extremely happy for her son.

"I am very excited for him, and I knew this day was going to come," said Mitchell, as Holmes stood next to her with an oversized check for $1,000. "I stood strong on the day he was born and I knew he was going to be somebody."

The Chestnut Firm, a Gainesville-based law office founded by attorney Christopher Chestnut, donated $500 that was matched by the three organizations hosting the breakfast for the scholarship. It will be given annually to an Alachua County high school senior who overcomes obstacles while in high school and plans to attend college.

Dix spoke briefly after receiving the Drum Major for Justice Award.

"I am deeply honored, and I told Evangelist Long that I don't feel deserving of this award because there are so many others in our community who I feel do so much more," said Dix.

He ended his remarks by saying one of the best ways to keep King's dream alive is to invest in children.

"I believe educational development, or educational assistance, tutoring, teaching the word of the church and reaching our children is so, so, so important," Dix said.

The documentary by Kyles deals primarily with the fact that King was in Memphis when he was shot to help support 1,300 garbage men who were on strike because they wanted better wages. It included part of the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech given by King on the night of April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis, less than 24 hours before he was shot.

The 32-minute documentary ends with Kyles preaching at his church in Memphis.

"Yes, you can kill the dreamer, but you cannot kill the dream," said Kyles, as some at the breakfast began to clap and shout hallelujah. "The dream is still alive! The dream is still alive. The dream is still alive."

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