GC hosted its third annual breakfast honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on Friday, Jan. 18. is year, the theme centered around King’s “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” speech which he gave to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia in 1967.
“Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint, and that blueprint serves as the guide for those who are to build the building,” King said to these young teens. “A building is not well erected without a good, sound and solid blueprint. Now, each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.”
Members of the Milledgeville and Baldwin County community as well as GC faculty, staff and students gathered in Magnolia Ballroom to honor King and his timeless words.
Speakers at the event included Veronica Womack, chief diversity officer of the Office of Inclusive Excellence, and community member Quentin Howell.
The sold-out event also recognized students from local schools, such as Baldwin County Schools, John Milledge Academy and GC Early College, who had competed in an essay contest about what King’s blueprint speech meant to them. Four finalists ranging from 3rd grade to 11th grade presented their work at the breakfast.
President Steven Dorman said that this annual breakfast and writing contest is important to “encourage young people to study the words of King” and to “acknowledge the work of young people in Baldwin County.”
One of these young individuals was 11th-grader Chris Jackson. As the winner of the high school, Jackson was the last of the student finalists to take the stage. Standing tall in a bright white button-up, he read his essay in a strong, proud voice, sharing how King’s speech profoundly a ected him.
“It was a little nerve-wracking at first,” Jackson said afterward. “But I love the speech, so when I got up there, I kind of shook it off and got to it.”
In his essay, Jackson connected himself to and described the most empowering points of King’s 1967 speech, such as having a deep belief in your own dignity and having the determination to achieve excellence. At the conclusion of his essay, Jackson received a standing ovation.
The initial round of selections begins at the school level. These school finalists then go to a committee, which spends a full day looking at all of the essays and other creative works, scoring them according to a rubric.
“It’s the most fun,” said Beauty Bragg, a GC English professor and member of this committee. “Our planning committee is probably somewhere between 11 and 14 people at any given meeting, so we really do get a whole bunch of different perspectives.”
Bragg explained that using a rubric allows the committee look more fairly at these emotionally involved works by young people engaging with King’s messages. Each member of the committee reads each piece, then assigns points, which are tallied up overall in the end.
“One thing that’s interesting is typically we’re pretty consistent,” Bragg said. “The scoring is fairly consistent across the board, so we feel pretty sure that we are being as fair [as possible].”
Some students who read their work, as well as Howell who spoke at the beginning of the breakfast, mentioned how today is not very far away from very obvious racial inequalities. For example, it was only 55 years ago that the first African American student, Cellestine Hill, entered GC.
Bragg said we are still living with the legacy that those inequalities in the present. She also said she thinks it is important to look to King’s guidance and philosophies that “brought us to this better place.”
When asked why it is important that this event brought together the GC and Milledgeville communities, Bragg said that a perpetual issue that universities face is “bridging the divide between the universities and the surrounding communities.”
This gap is sometimes more apparent in Baldwin County because of its history as a Black Belt county, an area associated with cotton plantation agriculture and slavery in the 19th century.
“I think any effort and demonstration of respect and recognition that the university can make to the larger community is important for building those bridges and that network,” Bragg said. “We’re all members of the same community.”