The annual Behold, Here Cometh the Dreamer program will be held Jan. 19 on the Emma Kelly Stage at the Averitt Center for the Arts. Now in its eighth year, the event is designed to pay tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and to spotlight local speakers and artists.
Featured in the second half of the program will be Dr. Alvin Jackson, no stranger to the local community.
Born in 1950 in a farmhouse in the Willow Hill community, Jackson’s birth was attended by Dr. Harvey Van Buren, the first African American doctor in Bulloch County. Jackson’s mother passed away just 17 months later, and he was raised by his maternal grandparents, who were both grandchildren of slaves. His family roots were deep in Willow Hill, and he grew up hearing the traditions and stories of that community, and being influenced by them.
Jackson, now a physician in Fremont, Ohio, attended Willow Hill School and later William James. But with the passing of Freedom of Choice, which was developed in the United States from 1965-70 and aimed at the integration of schools that had segregated educational systems, he chose to move to Statesboro High School. As one of the first Black students to do so, he says that there was much bullying and many of the teachers tried to dissuade Black students from taking the harder or upper level courses.
But Jackson worked hard, even as many of his peers left the school and went back to William James. He excelled, and went on to a private college in Alabama, then on via scholarship to study in England, and later, he was offered the opportunity to study at Ohio State University, where he met his wife, Dr. Gayle Jackson. The couple has four children.
The theme for this year’s Behold program is “Racial Terror in Bulloch County: Healing Our Community.” Jackson says there certainly is a history of racial terror in Bulloch County, and during the program, he plans to talk about the history that created it, as well as his take on what can be done to overcome it.
“I think first of all, we must acknowledge our history, and be willing to have a frank, open and honest discussion,” he said. “I think there are some important lessons that history can teach us if we are willing to listen, if we stop pointing fingers at each other and acknowledge that history has not been perfect. But if we come together, if we study, and if we talk and communicate, it is one of the only ways we will solve our problems.”
In Jackson’s lifetime, he says he has seen his share of racial terror, from his days in high school forward.
Jackson said the Bulloch County Board of Education at that time built a lot of “equalization schools,” which were built to delay integration in the schools. Also at that time, the Emmett Till story was heavy on the minds of everyone in the Black community, along with the riots around MLK and his movement.
“There was racial unrest and terror all around the country. There were demonstrations in the South, there were marches, and even the young children my age were participating,” he said. “When I went to Statesboro High School under the Freedom of Choice in 1965, there were a lot of challenges. We have come a long way since, but have a long way to go still.”
Jackson said while he wants to speak about the past, he also has words for tomorrow’s leaders.
“One of the things I’ve learned is that you have to keep focused on your goal; you have to build on the foundation of the ancestors. No matter what happens in the world there are still many good people and many kind-hearted people. Love is a powerful weapon,” he said.
Jackson says the changes that are needed in today’s society, whether it’s locally or all around the world, must begin with each individual.
“The change that you want to see can and must begin with you. You must know and learn your own value, because that becomes the foundation for everything. Know your value,” he said.
Behold, Here Cometh the Dreamer begins at 7:30 p.m. In addition to Jackson, the program will feature poetry by Dr. Meca Williams-Johnson, Francys Johnson and Thurgood Johnson, as well as emerging artists Derrick Bailey, Kimberly Foxx and Dr. Lindamichelle Baron. Also on the program will be the Rev. Jane Page, and special music will be provided by the Rev. Donald Chavers and Michell Chavers.
Tickets are $20, and can be purchased online at averittcenterforthearts.org, or by calling 912-212-2787.