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Honoring a legacy, contributions

Trail Blazer Citizen Award presented to Chris Walker, right, by Sherilyn Reynolds
Rosa Parks Award presented to Carolyn Bankes, right, by Sherilyn Reynolds
Certificate of Recognition presented to Zickeyous Byrd, left, by Rep. Alan Baker
The head table, from left, Mayor Jim Staff, Bea Forniss, Rev. Cromwell Handy, Rev. Michael Arnold, Superintendent Michele McClung, Master of Ceremony Zickeyous Byrd, Rev. Willie Hawthorne.

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The Yellow Hat Society’s 16th annual Rosa Parks Prayer Breakfast held true to tradition Saturday, February 4, as the event honored the legacy of Rosa Parks – considered the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement – and the contribution of local citizens. Zickeyous Byrd served once again as Master of Ceremony
On behalf of the Society, Sherilyn Reynolds (counselor with Pathway) presented the 2023 Trail Blazer Citizen Award to Chris Walker, former bank executive, three-term city councilman, and currently the city of Atmore’s Economic Advisor / Grant Writer.
“This is quite a surprise,” Walker said. “The things I do for the city and community are not for recognition although I do appreciate this award. I love my city and my community. This city has provided more for me than I have the city.”
Reynolds presented the 2023 Rosa Parks Award to Chief Apostle Carolyn Bankes, pastor of Abundant Life Church of Deliverance in Atmore. She was honored for her community service including a partnership with DHR. Bankes’ only comment was “thank you.” She said later she was speechless at receiving the award.
Alabama Representative Alan Baker presented a Certificate of Recognition to long-serving educator Zickeyous Byrd from Governor Kay Ivey. She recognized Byrd for “his exemplary service over the years in elevating education opportunities to all students under his leadership” in several administrative roles he has held throughout his career. He is currently superintendent of the Selma City School System.
Pastor Michael Arnold, New Style Missionary Baptist Church in Equality, Alabama, presented the invocation, thanking God “for a woman who took a stand.”
Keiana Quarker White, Education Specialist School Principal Alternative School and Virtual School, gave the welcome. “Your presence means you understand the significance of RP and the Civil Rights Movement,” she said.
Lotoya West, Federal Program Supervisor, Escambia County Board of Education, presented the Occasion, noting Rosa Parks was “not a tired little old lady” as sometimes perceived. Her actions became the catalyst for change.
Others participating in the program were Brian Stallworth, introducing elected officials; Greater Mt. Triumph Pastor Willie Hawthorne, special music; Bea Forniss, Community Marketing Specialist, Goodwyn Mills Cawood, Montgomery, introduction of guest speaker; Lillie Johnson, President of the Yellow Hat Society.
The Reverend Cromwell A. Handy was the speaker for the program. Rev. Handy is past pastor of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and is the president of the Dexter Avenue King Legacy Foundation, Inc. He is currently the pastor of The Church in Montgomery.
Although he said he wasn’t going to “preach,” he couldn’t help himself sometimes. He called his style of speaking “spreaching,” which is a combination of speaking and preaching.
Although he wasn’t delivering a sermon, Handy began by saying he was talking to “those who are saved and those who are eligible.”
“We are gathered here the 16th time to honor an ordinary woman for an extraordinary time,” he said.
He talked briefly about Sojourner Truth; Harriet Tubman who worked with the underground railroad “with a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other;” and Esther in the Bible, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
Handy likened Rosa Parks as a woman “for such a time as this.”
While it’s widely thought that Parks didn’t give up her seat on the bus because she was tired, that’s not true.
“The only tired she was, was being tired of giving in,” Handy said. “ … The Lord has brought us a mighty long way. We have come too far to turn back now … Rosa Parks knew God had her back.”
Atmore Mayor Jim Staff gave city updates. “This is the reason Atmore is such a great city – the citizens,” he said. “We are doing well because of all the people in the community. Your city is doing excellent. We are the foundation of the county right now; we’re not the county seat but we are the foundation of the county.”
Staff mentioned Main Street Atmore director Shinora Redmond, noting that Main Street Atmore is “turning the city around.”
Escambia County Superintendent of Education Michele McClung attended her first Rosa Parks Breakfast and brought school system updates to the gathering. Following is a portion of her presentation.
“I want to thank everyone in the Atmore community for your warm welcome to me as I transitioned here from Mobile. You all are the reason why I’m here!
“It is my pleasure to served as Escambia County’s Superintendent of Schools. In just 18 months, we have accomplished a lot for the benefit of the students of Atmore and the Atmore community as a whole. We are steadily pushing forward while raising the bar of expectations which isn’t always popular, but it’s the right thing to do.
“Our teachers had no calibration of guides outlining what to teach and when. We call these pacing guides. They have been developed by our teachers, serve as a model of excellence in the state and are now being digitized in a calendar format with links to exciting and engaging lessons to help take the load off our teachers so they can work smarter and not harder. Additionally, our teachers have created short cycle assessments to calibrate the level of difficulty of testing across the district for equity in grading. We are very proud of the work our teachers have done with these two tasks. It’s been a huge undertaking and the end product represents standards of excellence required by both teachers and students.
“Our teachers have had over 900 opportunities for training and professional development in the past 18 months. All teachers completed Capturing Kids Hearts training focusing on the social and emotional needs of students while building positive relationships with kids. Our administrators completed that training as well as a Leadership Blueprint training to help each grow in their leadership roles.
“Because security is paramount to orderly operations in our schools, we installed Centegix domes in each classroom and throughout the hallways alerting teachers by a color code if they are on a lockdown or if severe weather is approaching. Furthermore, each employee including substitutes have a badge to wear with a button to push when an emergency arises. When the button is pushed so many times, it alerts either the response team at the school (fight) or emergency team in the county that includes the sheriff’s office, resource officers, and other law enforcement. The badges geofence the entire school property inside and out and have already saved lives.
“We converted over to Schoology platform allowing teachers to put their lessons online each day so our parents will be more informed about what their children are learning. Each Friday our parents receive an email at 5:30 giving them a comprehensive progress report on how their children are performing in school.
“We added Stream Vu to each school so announcements can be student created and published online. Additionally, this platform allows for the videoing of school programs, performances and can be streamed for working parents to view.
“I expanded opportunities for our preschoolers to get a head start with literacy by reopening A.C. Moore School as a preschool. It is free to parents in the community and we hear the state will be offering us up to ten classrooms paid for next school year. Please spread the word. It’s free!
“The district invested over $1.5 million in a district wide literacy program that includes extensive training and ongoing coaching with feedback for our K-5 reading teachers. Additionally, we purchased 4,400 books for each elementary school’s library and gave each teacher 100 books for their classroom library. We’ve provided a reading coach and intervention coach at each elementary school as well.
“We added a Walk to Math program by Marilyn Bums for each K-8 classroom providing hands on manipulatives and scripted math lessons during the first 30 minutes of the school day to strengthen numeracy and foundational skills with our students. This has become a very popular initiative showing promising results in a short time frame.
“Each Atmore school has also raised the bar while striving for excellence.”
McClung also gave achievements, goals, and construction updates for each school.
Area principals in attendance were Amber Dunaway, A.C. Moore; Leah Fuqua, Huxford Elementary; Toya McMillian, Rachel Patterson Elementary School; Forrest Jones, Escambia County Middle School; Kike Pettaway, Escambia County High School. In addition, Assistant Superintendent George Brown and ECHS Assistant Principals Terries Lett and Greg Brock were in attendance.