By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
This year’s Unity Prayer Breakfast, an event sponsored by Concerned Citizens of Atmore and held each year on the Saturday preceding the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, featured both a near-record crowd and a brisk pace that helped ward off the effects of a hearty breakfast.
More than 65 people attended the January 18 event. They ranged from children and young adults to those who either marched alone and beside King and other leaders during the struggle for basic racial equality in the middle decades of the 20th century or watched as their parents did so.
“I was proud to see how many people showed up,” said CCOA President Russell Robinson. “It’s a new spirit, but it was short and sweet. Just happy to see the crowd, more than we had anticipated.”
The prayer breakfast lived up to its name. To help speed things up this year, the four preachers who offered the various prayers were limited to their specific prayers, delivered in whatever shape, form or fashion each desired, but delivered within a span of 3-5 minutes.
The same time restrictions were placed on the mayor, a city council member and the county commission chair-elect, who joked about it before speaking briefly on this year’s theme: King’s Beloved Community.
“Ms. (Sandra) Gray (vice president of the sponsoring group) called me and said, ‘Karean, I want you to speak about our beloved community’,” said Commissioner Karean Reynolds. “So, I go to the lab and cook up a nice speech so that I can deliver it to you guys. She stopped me right there and said, ‘Karean, you’ve only got two minutes’.”
Reynolds not only spoke around one of MLK’s most famous quotes, he also cited in praising the host organization one of most famous statements ever issued by the slain Civil Rights leader’s wife.
“Coretta Scott King said that greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members,” he said. “Concerned Citizens of Atmore has been effecting change and organizing events in our community for well over a decade. I want to thank them for their energy and all the things they brought to our community.”
In closing, Reynolds said he has learned to believe in another of MLK’s most famous phrases, “Injustice anywhere is a threat against justice everywhere,” asking the crowd to repeat the mantra before issuing a challenge to speak up when one sees injustice being carried out in any form.
City Councilwoman Susan Smith, who was CCOA’s “presiding officer,” or emcee, for the event, introduced Bernard and Felicia Bishop who sang “More Than Enough.”
Pastor Andy Gartman of First United Methodist Church, of which Smith is a member, delivered the “unity” prayer. Apostle Carolyn Banks of Abundant Life Church prayed for faith, First Baptist Church’s Kevin Garrett offered a prayer for peace, and Bishop Willie L. Williams offered a heavenly request for love among people of all colors.
“Where you find unity, faith and peace, you’ll find love,” Smith said after the prayers were finished.
The Bishops then performed again, this time doing a chilling version of “Way Maker” that had people singing along, swaying and offering their hands skyward, and that generated a standing ovation at its conclusion.
Another of the event’s highlights was the crowning of JaKiyah Hixon as CCOA’s MLK Day queen and Jalen Barnes as its king. Both teens are juniors at Escambia County High School, where Hixon is a cheerleader and a National Honor Society member and Barnes is a football and basketball player.
After Gray called the CCOA members in attendance to the front and introduced them and Concerned Citizens President Russell Robinson issued a brief closing statement, the assemblage stood and delivered a rousing rendition of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” also known as “The Negro National Anthem.”
Afterwards, door prizes were handed out. A community service award that was to have been presented to the family of Bobby L. Frye was postponed for two days after the Frye family left the breakfast before the presentation was made.