By SHERRY DIGMON
The house was packed … but it always is. About 150 people gathered Saturday morning, February 1, for the 14th Annual Rosa Parks Breakfast at Greater Mount Triumph Missionary Baptist Church.
Lillie Johnson and her fellow members of the Yellow Hat Society presented the breakfast and program to honor the woman known as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.
While the gathering is a time to pay homage to Ms. Parks, it’s also a time to recognize area individuals for their achievement.
Escambia County School Board member Danny Benjamin presented the first award to a “difference maker” – a man who has made “a difference in his city, state and in my life.” The recipient was in education 40 years and on the school board for 24, the last eight as chairman. He serves on the city Planning Board, is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, serves on the city and county Democratic Conference, and is a deacon. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to W.J. Grissett.
Escambia County Schools Improvement Supervisor Dr. Valarie Smith presented the Rosa Parks Award to Ada Minor Pair of Mobile, who has written a book on black pastors and churches in Mobile County.
A third award was presented – and it was a surprise. Lillie Johnson was presented with a plaque from her daughters, Shelia Johnson-Williams and Beverly Rodgers. The plaque was also from Lillie’s son, Randy Johnson, who was not in attendance. Her children honored her for all she does and all she means in their lives.
Johnson “volunteered” several people to take part in the program.
Serving as Master of Ceremony was Maurice Moore, director of Campus Life, Coastal Alabama Community College, Atmore and Brewton campuses.
Charles Wiggins sang America the Beautiful, accompanied on keyboard by Herbert “Mannie” Pair III, who also accompanied the Rev. Willie Hawthorne on two solos.
T.R. Miller teacher Bridget Golden presented the welcome, followed by the invocation by the Rev. Alfonzia Williams (retired).
Conecuh County School Superintendent Dr. Zickeyous Byrd presented the Occasion. He talked about Mrs. Parks’ decision not to give up her seat on the bus, an action that was the catalyst for the civil rights movement. “She made her decision in an instant,” Byrd said. “It took courage then, but it took more courage in the days, weeks, months and years to come … We are here today because she said no.”
Superintendent of Education John Knott gave updates on Atmore schools, and Mayor Jim Staff gave city updates.
Area elected and appointed officials in attendance included District Judge Eric Coale, Presiding Judge Dave Jordan, Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks, Escambia County Superintendent of Education John Knott, District Attorney Steve Billy, Atmore City Councilwoman Susan Smith, Atmore City Councilman Jerome Webster, Escambia County Board of Education members Coleman Wallace and Danny Benjamin, Escambia County Sheriff Heath Jackson, Escambia County Health care Authority Board member Rev. Alfonzia Williams.
Dr. Ulysses McBride introduced guest speaker Vinson Bradley, dean of Student Services, Coastal Alabama Community College.
He talked about a lady who prepared for the day she would make history.
“She was preparing for when that time would come,” he said. “She joined NAACP and became secretary. She became more convicted in her faith. She became stronger. She did not sit still. She was preparing. Sometimes you don’t choose the time, the Lord does … She made the decision and she took her place in history as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”
The program concluded with Lillie Johnson’s remarks. “When we were getting ready for today, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if Mrs. Parks had gotten up that day, where would we be?”