People attending a Bulloch County NAACP-sponsored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day community service heard the keynote speaker, NAACP Southeast Regional Field Director Kevin Myles, call for action, not just words, to carry on King’s fight against injustice.
But first, the crowd that filled Elm Street Church of God after the parade heard a more familiar voice, former NAACP Georgia State Conference President Francys Johnson, the Statesboro attorney who is also senior pastor of two churches, spell out an agenda specific to Statesboro and Bulloch County. Johnson revived the NAACP’s call for replacement of the school superintendent, expressed opposition to expanding the jail and called for other changes.
“To honor Dr. King, I don’t know how we honor his work without continuing it, and I don’t know how we continue his work unless we understand it,” Myles said, “because, you see, Dr. King came from a time when this was the Lord’s work. Civil rights work was an extension of spirit.”
Myles cited a “standard” described in the Gospel of Matthew for separating those who have done the Lord’s work from those who have not, “because I was hungry and you fed me not … I was a stranger and you did not welcome me in, … I was sick and I was jailed and you did not visit me.”
As regional field director, Myles provides training, guidance, and assistance to more than 600 NAACP units in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. He has traveled widely, and everywhere he has gone in America there are children whose most substantial meals are school lunches, he said. These children are “food insecure” when they go home for the summer.
“What do we say to them? … ” Myles asked. “I want to say this right at the outset. I know we are all NAACP members, and I’m NAACP tried and true, but no hungry child has ever cried out for another speech. …”
“When somebody says that I was a stranger and you did not let me in, you can turn on the television and see what’s going on with the immigration crisis,” Myles continued, “and the temptation is to say, ‘Well that ain’t got nothing to do with me. They don’t even look like me.’”
He also mentioned people having to make “difficult decisions” on whether to pay for prescription medicines or to suffer untreated in order to pay other bills.
“What are we doing in those instances and for the people who are jailed when the Lord said, ‘I was sick and in prison and you visited me not.’ Think about this, y’all,” Myles said. “Y’all are having this conversation right now about rebuilding or building onto the jail, expanding the jail. If all of us in here were totally transparent, we all know somebody that’s up in there.”
Johnson had been specific in voicing opposition to expansion of the Bulloch County Jail and staking out positions on other local issues. Bulloch County Branch NAACP President Delinda Gaskins had asked him to give some remarks, as well as to introduce Myles.
“Let me be clear about something, you are at an NAACP event,” Johnson said. “The NAACP is a civil rights organization. In fact it is this nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. … We use advocacy, direct action and litigation to achieve our mission of eradicating racism and discrimination.”
This year’s NAACP-proclaimed theme for the parade and observance was “When We Fight, We Win!”
“If you really believe that we can’t turn back, every now and again that means that you have to lay down all of your talk and put up your dukes and just go to fighting,” Johnson said.
After prompting applause for Mayor Jonathan McCollar and three recently elected women on City Council, Johnson asked them to use their new “majority to establish a budget that restates the values of a municipality claiming that it is one of America’s best.”
Demands of city
He called on the city of Statesboro to eliminate the use of private probation services by its Municipal Court.
“No one should be profiting from our babies, our boys and girls, our men and women, in the justice system,” Johnson said.
He also called for diversity in hiring judges to the court and for diversity “to be more than just a buzzword in city business.” The city government, Johnson said, should create a “minority business enterprise system” to ensure that minorities, women and people with disabilities are represented among its suppliers and contractors.
Johnson also called for the city to move forward with its public transit plan and improve its parks and recreational programs.
“Before you hire an additional law enforcement officer to lock our babies up, you ought to develop some programs to keep them from getting in trouble in the first place,” he said. “I don’t care what nobody says, we don’t need a bigger jail to warehouse our people.”
Johnson then reiterated the Bulloch County NAACP’s call, issued three years ago, for Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson’s resignation.
“Every one of our neighbors want a world-class education system for their children,” Johnson said. “It is time for us to stop settling for a flunking superintendent.”
Asked after the meeting, Gaskins said that Johnson’s remarks reflect the local NAACP’s continued stance.
Teacher violence allegation
Johnson said that a teacher, whom he identified by name and school, has “violently assaulted” children and been protected by the school system.
Johnson accused school district officials of misrepresenting the situation and the district attorney’s office of mishandling and dismissing the case.
“This is the same DA’s office that doesn’t employ a single African American and has never employed a single African American in any position, not a prosecutor, not a secretary, not a janitor,” Johnson said to the crowd. “You’re not qualified to even tote the trash out if you work for the DA’s office, not if you’re African American. That’s your DA. That position is on the ballot in the next election cycle.”
Johnson had a 12-year-old girl he said the teacher had assaulted and her parents come forward and stand in front of the gathering.
“I want you to know that this NAACP stands with you and will support you,” he said, to a round of applause.
Few if any white officials were present at the community service, although several had taken part in the parade that preceded it.
“For the chairman of the county commission, who’s not here, you can put a float in the parade but you can’t come to the community service, for the sheriff who’s not here, you can ask for a bigger jail but you can’t come to the service. The DA is not here. … Not a single elected judge is here….”
“Now is the time for the commissioners and the department heads to think enough about us to show up at things that matter to us,” Johnson said.