Marching or watching in bright sunshine, people taking part in Statesboro’s 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade celebrated. But along the way — and afterward at the concluding program — they heard exhortations to service and shouts against complacency.
As parade grand marshal, Dr. Francys Johnson walked the entire route. Johnson, a Statesboro-based minister and attorney, was chosen to lead the parade after having been elected Georgia NAACP State Conference president.
“It is indeed a privilege and an honor to be honored here in my adopted hometown of Statesboro,” Johnson said. “It is also very good and is a testimony to the progress that America has made that the NAACP, once a group outlawed in Alabama and attempted to be outlawed in Georgia, parades down Main Street under beautiful blue skies with a representation of all the hues of America.”
Johnson noted that this week brings Statesboro unusual highlights related to the King legacy. Ambassador Andrew Young, a confidante of King, will speak Wednesday in a program at Georgia Southern University. Then the Georgia NAACP will hold its quarterly meeting Friday and Saturday in downtown Statesboro.
“Statesboro is truly on the map in terms of civil rights,” Johnson said. “There’s much work to be done, and we’re going to focus on that this week.”
The float from Thomas Grove Missionary Baptist Church, which placed third in the parade, featured a stove with cooks at work and people waiting to eat at a table.
“Set free to feed the hungry! Set free to serve!” shouted the Thomas Grove’s pastor, the Rev. Mary Lee. Holding aloft a large Bible she also proclaimed, “There’s freedom in the Word!”
A float from Little Bethel Baptist Church displayed the scales of justice and, under this year’s “Freedom and Equal Justice for All” theme, proclaimed “education and voting rights” — also aspects the NAACP will emphasize at this weekend’s state meeting. It won second place.
Mount Zion AME Church’s entry won the competition. On the winning float, children held cutouts of mountains with phrases from King’s “I Have a Dream speech.”
Meanwhile, representatives of the Concerned Clergy of Bulloch County were singing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round” as they marched in their preaching attire.
One especially musical portion of the parade featured an ensemble from the City of David Worship Center playing and singing on a float, followed immediately by the Statesboro High School Marching Blue Devils on foot. Further back, the Southeast Bulloch High School Swarm performed seated on a trailer.
In the observance at Tabernacle Baptist Church after the parade, keynote speaker Patrice Buckner Jackson exhorted listeners not to celebrate one day and become complacent for the next 365. Jackson, the dean of students at Georgia Southern University, is also a minister.
She began by celebrating what has been accomplished for civil rights and social justice in America, describing it as a gift from God.
“When I think about just the way he’s done just in my life, to have a young African-American woman of 33 years old to be the dean of students at Georgia Southern University,” Jackson said, “it’s because of the goodness, because of the greatness of my God. … We’ve got a lot to be grateful for!”
Through the struggles and sacrifices of groundbreaking civil right figures such as Harriett Tubman, King and Rosa Parks, much has been accomplished, Jackson said.
“But the tragedy, my brothers and sisters, is when you live in a blessed situation, sometimes you allow a thief to infiltrate your community, and that thief is called complacency,” she added. “We’re in a season where we’re very comfortable. We’re in the Burger King season: ‘Have it your way.’”
A too common attitude is that the government, or somebody else, will fix all our problems, Jackson asserted.
She cited a list of statistics, from higher incidence of HIV and shorter life expectancies among African-Americans compared to other U.S. ethnicities, to the relatively low average wealth of black families.
One of her statistical facts was a local one.
“We’ve got work to do in Bulloch County,” Jackson said. “In Bulloch County, 31.3 percent of our population, according to census data, lives below the poverty line. That’s $23,550 a year for a family of four.”
She urged her audience to “take up the mantle,” stop being spectators, stop playing “the blame game” and work for positive change.
Before giving the benediction, the parade marshal, Johnson, also sounded a less sunny note in the service, calling out some elected officials by name for not participating in the day’s observances.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.