Commonwealth Journal

January 17, 2014

Unity breakfast kicks off local MLK remembrance

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — Friday’s Unity Breakfast at Somerset Community College kicked off several days’ worth of remembrance for the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, January 20 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and SCC recognized the occasion with its annual Unity Breakfast on Friday morning.

The featured speaker was Carlotta Walls LaNier, who made history in 1957 by enrolling in the racially segregated Little Rock Central High School following the segregation being declared unconstitutional three years earlier. This led to a newsmaking event in which the governor of Arkansas tried to prevent the “Little Rock Nine” as the students were known from entering.

“It was unbelievable; she’s so good,” said Elaine Wilson, Director of Cultural Diversity for SCC. “She was very soft-spoken — not angry or militant about what she said, but very factual and made sure people understood that she was there to tell her story. She gave people a glimpse into what her life had been like.”

Wilson noted that at the time, the high school was one of the top 50 schools in the nation and it was an opportunity for a much better education for the students in question. Wilson learned from the presentation that a hundred students or so tried to enroll but only nine were chosen, those that were thought to be able to handle to transition better.

“Her goal was just to go to a better school where they had better books, better resources, better equipment,” said Wilson of LaNier. “She wanted to go there just to get a better education.”

Also, First Baptist pastor Dr. French Harmon and Jack Wilhelm, who pastored First Presbyterian Church for around 20 years and founded the local Human Rights Commission, were recognized for their achievements in promoting diversity here in the community.

“(Harmon) was recognized for all he does to increase the diversity of the church and peace across the world, encouraging mission trips in Kentucky, New York, and across the world,” said Wilson. “... (Wilhelm) initiated some very important support groups over the years. He’s one of the figures in the community known for bringing people together.”

On Sunday at 2 p.m. at First Baptist Church in downtown Somerset, Re. Charles Cotton will speak for the Dr. Martin Luther Kind Jr. Community Program, hosted by Somerset Community College. Rev. Charles B. Cotton Sr. is the founder and senior pastor of Faith Walk Fellowship Church in Cleveland, Ohio. He was ordained in 1989 and comes from a long line of ministers, beginning with his great grandfather, Rev. Ben Cotton, a preacher in the early 1800’s.

 Rev. Cotton has preached and ministered in the West African countries of Nigeria, Freetown in Sierra Leone, Accra in Ghana and in the East African cities of Mombasa and Nairobi, Kenya. Additionally, Rev. Cotton has served as a team member for the Cleveland Area Concerts of Prayer and is a licensed Walk Thru the Bible Instructor for the Old and New Testament.

On Monday, the annual march in remembrance of Dr. King will take place. Individuals wishing to participate should meet at 10 a.m. at the corner of Oak Hill Road and Monticello Street. The march will begin at 10:30 a.m. and go across the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. bridge, ending up at High Street Baptist Church.

The march remembers the kind of acts of solidarity King led during the Civil Rights Era, and is a good way to continue to bring together people today, according to organizer Paula Stigall.

“It’s (about) bringing people of different races and economic backgrounds together as one as far as unity and promoting peace,” she said.