Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

January 16, 2011, Go to the words of Rev. Simon


Dr. Martin Luther King Observance, Lake City
"We charge you to see that Justice will roll down like a mighty river."

At the beginning of the Dr. King Observance, The Rev Joy L. Gallmon, Pastor of the New Mt. Pisgah A.M.E. Church, charged the Executive Board of the N.A.A.C.P. "And all that gathered, on behalf of the least, the lost and the left out, not to forget the past... We charge you to see that Justice will roll down like a mighty river," she said. (left to right, Exec. Committee members, Georgia Muldrow, Glynnell Presley, John Mayo, Linda Thomas)

LAKE CITY, FL – In 2011, the MLK day celebrations were a celebration of a life well lived. Today, Lake City is a City with the "Scarlet Letter." It has gone backwards in time. Had the Columbia County/Lake City community heeded the words of Reverend Joy L. Gallmon, Reverend J. T. "Billy" Simon, and Dr. King, Lake City/Columbia County would not be where it is today.

Bessie Whitfield, Principal of the Richardson Middle School, Columbia County's former Black High School, presided at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance program, introducing the program and the political attendees.

The elected officials in order of introduction 

Thirty two year County Commission veteran Ronald Williams said, "It is great to be a part of Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy." 

Left to right (the guys with the white hair). School Supt Milliken, Tax Collector Brannon, and State Attorney Jarvis.

The always amiable Tax Collector, Ronnie Brannon, got a big laugh when he said apologetically, "Good afternoon, I'm Ronnie Brannon - I'm your tax collector."

State Attorney Skip Jarvis: "I'm Skip Jarvis. I'm your State Attorney. I was invited by Mr. Presley and I am enjoying the music."

Sheriff Mark Hunter introduced himself and his wife Marilyn and invited folks to stop by his office and visit anytime. "You're more than welcome. It's your Sheriff's Office."

The always gracious Superintendent of Schools, Mike Millikan: "Thank you for sharing this special day." He really sounded like he meant it.

City Councilman Eugene Jefferson: "As always, I enjoy these honoring services of a great leader."

County Commission Chairman Jody DuPree, who is never at a loss for words:  "Jody DuPree, Board of County Commissioners."

The popular City Councilman Jake Hill, one of the City's newest councilmen: "If I can help you in any way, my door is always open."

Circuit Court Judge, Julian Collins, gave his bird's eye view of civil rights and Dr. King from the time he, the Judge, was a little boy in the 1940's.

Judge Collins told the gathering that the only black people he knew when he was growing up were people like Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays. Judge Collins said that he was somewhere between the age of 8 and 12 when he realized that his black heroes could not eat in the same restaurants as the white players and it made no sense to him.  As he grew up, Judge Collins said that foremost among the people he admired was Martin Luther King.

The guest speaker

As the Mt. Pisgah choir sings, Rev. Simon quietly prepares for his presentation. Born a year after Dr. King, Rev. Simon suffered the same indignities of not only the Jim Crow South, but that of being a black man in America. The struggle is not over.

The day's guest speaker was the Reverend J. T. "Billy" Simon, who was born in South Georgia in 1930. In the 50's he went to S. Korea in the military and according to his daughter Mavis, it was after his military service that he moved to Jasper, Florida.

Reverend Simon has been the Pastor of the Greater Poplar Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Jasper for the past twenty three years. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and has been married to his wife Mary for 50 years and counting. 

He served on the Hamilton County School Board for twenty years.

Reverend Simon

"I am humbled to have been asked and to be a part of the celebration of one of America's greatest sons, Dr. Martin Luther King. He loved people. It didn't matter what color you were..."

"In a few days the President will be giving the State of the Union address."

"I want to ask you today, what is the state of the black community? Where are we? Where do we go from here?"

"I wonder how Dr. King would feel if he saw the conditions of some of the streets in our neighborhoods?"

"It's been thirty three years since we lost Dr. King."

"It was estimated that during that time blacks controlled 1% of the wealth in this country - guess what - we still control 1%."

"It's not about civil rights anymore - it's about economic rights."

"We need to stop telling our children to go to college and get an education so they can come back and get a job. We need to tell them to go to college and get a good education and comeback and create some jobs."

"Our community is the only community that money goes through and never stops." 

The past and the present

"Back then we didn't have a lot of money, but we had morals. Today we have money, but to a large degree, we have lost our morals." 

"I remember when I was a boy we didn't need locks on the doors." 

"When I see a young man who would rather stand on a street corner selling drugs and die at age 30, rather than get a job and live a long life, it tells me that we need to seek the old path." 

"We are more concerned with making money than making a life." 

"Just say no"

After speaking about the historical value of the church in the black community, Reverend Simon spoke about man/woman interpersonal relationships. Referring to the Bible, he encouraged women to follow the biblical path and "just say no unless the man has a job."

The school board veteran seems to be onto something as a cure for the high percentage of black males dropping out of school. 

Reverend Simon also discussed the over emphasis of sports in the black community.  He said, "There is nothing wrong with playing basketball, but get yourself a degree in mathematics so you can count your money."

"Excellence is the name of the game"

"Parents should not only side with excellence in themselves, but also in their children, because excellence is the name of the game. Let's not be satisfied with just getting by." 

"What happened to us when everybody in the community was trying to excel? Everybody was trying to be better than their parents were. What happened to us?" 

As he wrapped up his presentation he said, "Don't let anybody rob you of who you are, because when a whole lot of other folks were living in caves our ancestors were already world travelers." 

At the conclusion of his presentation, energy spent, Rev Simon said simply, "I'm done." He sat down, the choir sang and the future of that beautiful boy in the white shirt ...

A lot of folks missed out

A lot of folks missed out on an event that should they have attended, they would have left a better person, at least for a little while.

Understanding of the human condition does not come easy. No one with a scintilla of intelligence believes that the struggle that Reverend Simon spoke so eloquently about today, on this Day of Remembrance for Dr. King, is over.

It was unfortunate that there were empty seats in the house and that only a handful of children were present, but there is always next year. 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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