Sounding the keynote at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day community service in Statesboro, Dr. Torian White called on listeners to leave their community better than they found it.
White, principal of Southeast Bulloch Middle School, is also a minister and a son of ministers. His wife, Tashenia White, a Brooklet Elementary School teacher, gave her husband, whom she called a "man with a plan," a stirring introduction. As usual, the Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP organized the observance, held this year at Elm Street Church of God.
"Leave it better than you found it," White said, announcing the title of his speech. "Lean over and tell your neighbor, say, 'Neighbor, let's leave Bulloch better than we found it.' Our predecessors have shown us through their lives, this is the charge of each generation."
He proposed three ways to accomplish this.
"We must advocate what is right and just," was the first.
"The time is always right to do what is right" was a watchword of King's, White noted. He also quoted Proverbs 31:8-9, "Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."
He asked people to consider how they are doing this in their neighborhoods, their workplaces, their schools and their churches.
"You have been placed there strategically to speak up on behalf of someone who cannot speak for themselves," he said.
Build for the future
"We must build for the future" was the second way.
"How can we build for the future? Very simply it is this, by building up our children," White said.
The achievement gap in schools reflects disparities in the larger society, he said.
"We cannot begin to address the achievement gap without addressing the gap in economics," White said.
He cited 2016 U.S. Census Bureau survey data showing that about 22 percent of African-Americans, but only about 11 percent of white Americans, live in households with incomes below the federal poverty line.
"There is a gap," he said. "In the U.S. we cannot address the achievement gap without addressing the fact that there's a disproportionate amount of black and brown children who are over-identified for special education and in-school suspension and under-identified for preventive services."
White called on adults to build children up, to "speak life into that young person," by helping each to identify his or her gifts and talents and magnify them.
"Nobody should be congratulating our young people more than us," he said.
Connect to a cause
The third way White suggested to leave the community better is to "connect to a community cause."
White, who grew up in Rincon, was valedictorian and president of his class at South Effingham High School. He holds a bachelor's degree in math education from the University of Georgia, a master's degree from Troy University and an education specialist's degree from Cambridge College. He received his doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Mercer University.
Another Bulloch County principal, Dr. Evelyn Gamble-Hilton of Langston Chapel Elementary School, spoke briefly at various times during the service as the master of ceremonies.
Mayor Jonathan McCollar, Statesboro's first African-American mayor and still in his first month in office, was one of five local, university and state officials who gave greetings early in the program.
The crowd greeted him with a standing ovation.
"I'm not going to stand before you and pretend like our city does not have tough issues in front of us," McCollar said. "One of those issues is that we've got to create an economy where all of us can prosper. More than 50 percent of us live below the poverty line."
Other challenges Statesboro needs to address, he said, are inclusiveness and the needs of its young people.
"Statesboro has not always been the most inclusive city," McCollar said. "It's been a city sometimes that we allowed a loud minority that believes in bigotry and hate to separate us with false barriers, but I'm here to say that we're going to put people over politics."
He said God didn't make people different from one another so that they would be divided but "to show his genius."
"His genius lay in the fact that we all are a little bit different, but in all of us we can see a little bit of God," McCollar said.
Other greeters were Bulloch County Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson, Georgia Southern University Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Georj Lewis, state Sen. Jack Hill, Bulloch County Board of Education member Maurice Hill and Bulloch NAACP First Vice President Carlos Brown, whose wife, Pearl Brown, is branch president and spoke later in the program.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.