By SHERRY DIGMON
The Yellow Hat Society’s 17th annual Rosa Parks Prayer Breakfast held true to tradition Saturday, February 3, as the event honored the legacy of Rosa Parks – considered the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement – and the contributions of local citizens.
Zickeyous Byrd served once again as Master of Ceremony.
On behalf of the Society, Sheila Johnson-Williams presented the 2024 Rosa Parks Award to Pastor Michael Jackson. “He does so much for others,” Johnson said.” Anytime you call him, no matter how bad he feels, he’s there. My mama says, ‘I work for a cause, not for applause.’ That fits this person.”
Jackson, obviously touched at the honor, didn’t comment. (He had to leave immediately after the award to conduct a funeral.)
In presenting the 2024 Trail Blazer Citizens Award, Vasaroy Johnson said, “He is a person who has opened the door for many people. He was in education 25-plus years.” And she announced Brian Stallworth as this year’s recipient.
“All I wanted to do was have an impact,” Stallworth said. “I retired to take care of my mother. She passed away in December. I dedicate this award to her.”
Alabama Representative Alan Baker presented a Certificate of Recognition to long-serving educator Voncile Stallworth from Governor Kay Ivey. She recognized Ms. Stallworth for “a lifetime of exemplary service” – more than 30 years in education and active work in her church and community.
Baker had a second presentation. On behalf of Congressman Jerry Carl, he presented a flag which had flown over the Capitol in celebration of Rosa Parks Day to Lillie Johnson and the Yellow Hat Society.
The invocation was by Overseer Maurice Square, Holy Community Holiness Church. He thanked God that He “watches over us and protects us.” He prayed for peace.
Escambia County Board of Education President Loumeek White welcomed everyone, recalling the event that ignited the Montgomery bus boycott. “How did Black people manage with no buses for more than a year?” he asked. The reply came from the audience, “By working together.”
Retired educator Harold Dailey presented the Occasion. “We must forever be mindful,” he said. “People who ignore history are doomed to repeat it … Rosa Parks stood up by sitting down.”
Blessing of the food was by Pastor Wayne Johnson, Emmanuel Holiness Church, Atmore.
Others participating in the program were Pastor Michael Arnold, New Style Missionary Baptist Church, Equality, Ala., introduction of elected officials; Herbert “Mannie” Pair III and Charles Wiggins, special music; Bea Forniss, Community Marketing Specialist, Goodwyn Mills Cawood, Montgomery, introduction of guest speaker; Lillie Johnson, President of the Yellow Hat Society.
The speaker for the program was the Rev. Rodtric T. Robinson, pastor of First Congregational Christian Church, UCC in Montgomery.
“We must always remember to keep our history before us,” he began. Then he surprised everyone with a beautiful solo – “I’ve Got a Mind to Live for Jesus.”
He spoke on Rosa Parks’ Christianity saying her courage was preordained and justified, that God used providence to accomplish His will.
“I get excited when I see the hands of God moving,” Rev. Robinson said. “God will conquer all who stand against Him … She was selected by God to start a movement that continues today. [He calls] all men to live together in harmony. Look at our nation. We’re so divided. Stop thinking we’re so different when we’re not. Stop being afraid of the unknown. Get to know each other. Will you answer the call? Will you allow God to use you to be an agent of change? … Rosa Parks sat down knowing that God would stand with her.”
In the absence of Mayor Jim Staff, Mayor Pro Tem Shawn Lassiter gave city updates. He began by commending the Yellow Hat Society for their work and cooperation with the city. Recognizing the police department, fire department and street department, Lassiter said. ”The council works hard to support them.”
He asked Police Chief Chuck Brooks for comments. “I could talk all day about our police department,” Brooks said. “It is an honor to serve the people of Atmore … I pray over our men and women, and I ask them to pray.” He asked the audience to pray for all first responders.
Brooks said the police department, street department (manager Calvin Grace) and fire department (Chief Ron Peebles) need more people to work.
At the conclusion of their comments, Lassiter presented the Key to the City to Rev. Robinson.
Escambia County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Michele Collier brought school updates.
Before her remarks, she mentioned that Harold Dailey was her teacher for two years and the impact he had on her.
“We have made incredible progress in our district,” she said. “We’re doing great things.”
She mentioned four of the 25 most improved schools in the state are in Escambia County and one is in Atmore – Escambia County Middle School.
“But here is our challenge,” Dr. Collier said. “We need students in our schools. We need students in their classes. We need students in their seats.”
She encouraged parents to help educators make sure their students are attending school.
“We want them in school,” she said. “We want them college and career ready … Every day we want to do more. I need you guys to help us. We want to challenge us as a community. We want to make a difference in Atmore.”
In beginning his comments on physical school updates, Escambia County Schools Deputy Superintendent Shawn Goolsby expressed his appreciation to the Yellow Hats. Work on the Escambia County High School fieldhouse is well under way – a $3 million project. All school buses are air conditioned now. A new HVAC system, at more than a million dollars, was installed at Escambia County Middle School.
“We’re making improvements countywide, not just one side or the other,” Goolsby said.
Yellow Hat President Lillie Johnson thanked everyone for attending.
“Like Chuck said, we need prayer throughout the community, especially in our schools,” she said. “We’re a close-knit community. As my grandmother used to say, ‘I’ll pray for you and you pray for me.’”
Pastor Arnold closed the program with prayer – praying specifically “for the Escambia County School System, every teacher and board member.”
“Let us be doers,” Arnold prayed. “Let’s ask ourselves what can we do? What can I do in my community? What can I do in my home?”