‘A legacy to the future’ Thompson urges action to remember MLK

Published 12:06 pm Monday, January 17, 2011

Calling Martin Luther King Jr. a man “ahead of his time,” U. S. Rep. Bennie Thompson this morning exhorted people to continue working to make King’s dreams of equality and civil rights for all a reality.

“A day of public service is a good place to start,” Thompson told those assembled at the Vicksburg Convention Center to honor the leader of the Civil Rights Movement at the 22nd annual scholarship breakfast sponsored by the Omicron Rho Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

The federal holiday in King’s name, established 25 years ago, became in 1993 the only holiday to be set aside by Congress as a national day of service.

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In addition to this morning’s breakfast, it is being commemorated this year in Vicksburg with various activities centered on the theme, Remember, Celebrate, Act: A Day On, Not A Day Off.

Thompson said much progress has been made toward achieving King’s dream, but it is still not fulfilled.

“I challenge you to do something every day,” Thompson said. “What you do in this community is a legacy for the future.”

He exhorted those in attendance to support local political and judicial leaders and law enforcement and stay “in touch and in tune with” children — their own and those in the community who may need mentoring.

“Our children need direction and we can’t let the schools and the streets raise them,” Thompson said. “I want to challenge you to set the standard, to raise the bar, to say, ‘do as I do, not as I say to do.’”

King was assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39 in Memphis. He had visited Vicksburg several times prior to his death.

More than 200 people attended todays’s breakfast, which concluded with chapter leaders handing out their Community Service Award to retired music teacher Shirley C. Harris, and awarding five $100 scholarships to students who were top essayists on the topic, “What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. means to me.”

The five, all students at Warren Central High School, are Jamerica Dixon, the daughter of Kimberly Bolls; Jesstin Johnson, the son of Tracey Johnson; Jasmine King, the daughter of Broderick and Toya King; Nicholas Wright, the son of Ty and Lisa Wamsley; and Kaylin Young, the daughter of Leonce and Benita Young.

Also today, AmeriCorps NCCC and United Way of West Central Mississippi planned to host a community service event in the city, directing a team of volunteers in cleaning, painting, and landscape work at Beulah Cemetery, Good Shepherd Community Center, the Warren County Children’s Shelter, the Child Abuse Prevention Center and possibly other United Way agencies from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

With public and private schools as well as federal, state, non-emergency city and county offices closed today, spokesman Erika Roberts said the AmeriCorps NCCC hoped to have 60 to 80 volunteers participate.

Weekend events honoring King included a commemorative program Friday at Americorps NCCC’s Confederate Avenue campus, and the sixth annual Martin Luther King Jr. downtown Vicksburg parade along Washington Street Saturday, with school bands and numerous floats.

Thompson, 62, a Democrat from Bolton, was first elected in 1993 to the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi’s 2nd District, comprising 23 counties including Warren, Claiborne, Sharkey, Issaquena, Yazoo, Hinds and Madison counties. .

He is currently in his ninth term as Congressman, the longest-serving African-American elected official in the state of Mississippi, and is the ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security. Thompson has also served on the Agriculture, Budget and Small Business Committees.

He earned degrees from Tougaloo College and Jackson State University. Before going into politics, Thompson taught school briefly, then entered local politics, serving in Bolton as an alderman and mayor, and as a Hinds County supervisor before being elected to Congress.