January 8, 2012 12:23:00 AM
"It just seems to keep growing," said co-organizer Learnard Dickerson, about Dream 365. What began in 2005 as a single-day commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day has grown from its 2011 four-day format to a five-day celebration of the life and legacy of the civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. That success, planners agree, is both gratifying and humbling. From
Jan. 12-16, Dream 365 will present one of the most extensive events honoring King in the state of Mississippi.
The vision began eight years ago with Learnard Dickerson, the Rev. Tony Montgomery and Lavonne Harris, all of Columbus. Dickerson and Montgomery were partners in The Joshua Project, a local nonprofit entity for youth mentoring, education and community service. Harris is affiliated with the Columbus-Lowndes Chapter of the NAACP.
The three have remained committed to the cause, as has a dedicated group of volunteers. Together they've planned a broad range of programming for this year, ranging from a day of community service to a night of national comedy acts.
Jazz, poetic tribute
New to Dream 365 this year is an evening of jazz and spoken word on Thursday, Jan. 12.
"Music and spoken word poetry have deeply enriched African-American culture," said Dickerson. "We wanted to add this to be even more inclusive, to have something for everyone, and the artists coming are very gifted."
The tribute to King will feature live jazz by Muzik in Action and poetry artists from 6-9 p.m. at the Rosenzweig Arts Center in downtown Columbus. Tickets are $10 for all programs, except a Jan. 16 breakfast event, which is $15.
Entertainment includes a Jan. 13 step show for high school and college steppers -- with themes of the civil rights era incorporated in performances. A Jan. 14 all-star, adult comedy jam featuring AJ Jamal, Damon Williams, Steve Brown and other entertainers follows a day of community service, which begins at 8 a.m.
Jan. 15 is highlighted by a free Gospel Spotlight concert hosted by recording artist Genita Pugh, also at Trotter.
While Dream 365 has gained widespread recognition (including repeat Southeast Tourism Society designations as a Top Twenty Event for January), Dickerson, Montgomery and Harris stress its purpose remains rooted in building community connections and ensuring that current generations know the work that has been done to make the world today a very different place than what it once was.
"Our heart is geared toward the education component," said Dickerson, emphasizing the importance of encouraging youth. Since 2007, Dream 365 has awarded more than $20,000 in scholarships.
The focus on even younger children includes an essay contest and art contest.
"We partner with the schools, so the general public may not get a chance to know their children are writing brilliant essays, but when we get all 1,000-plus essays every year, we meticulously go through those with our team, one by one," stated Dickerson.
Recognition where its due
The Oasis of Freedom and Justice Awards and Unsung Hero Awards to be presented Jan. 16 honor individuals, organizations or entities who, through their service and goodwill in the community, exemplify Dr. King's vision of transforming Mississippi into "an oasis of freedom and justice," making this a better place to live.
Harris remarked, "We want to honor people who go above and beyond in the community as a whole."
The 2012 Oasis of Freedom and Justice Award recipients are Tony Carley, general manager of Mitchell Companies; Dr. Martha Liddell, interim superintendent of the Columbus Municipal School District; Steve Moody, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Columbus; and Bill Walker, vice president of Brickyard Properties Ltd.
Unsung Hero Awards will be presented to Dr. Phillip Cockrell, director of student life at Mississippi University for Women; Sam Kaye, of Luke, Peterson & Kaye Architects; Chief Kenneth Moore, of the Columbus Fire Department and Homeland Security; United Way volunteer Donnie Schippel; Capt. Fred Shelton of the Columbus Police Department; and Dr. Paul Veal of Veal Chiropractic Clinic.
Dream 365 culminates on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 16, with the NAACP-Dream 365 commemoration breakfast and awards ceremony at Trotter Convention Center. Keynote speaker Otis Moss III of Cleveland, Ohio, will mark the 50th anniversary of James Meredith's landmark enrollment at the University of Mississippi, connecting the message to King's work.
"I've known Otis since we went to Morehouse College, and he is the most phenomenal young speaker I've ever met," said Montgomery, with fervor. "His ability to preach, teach, lecture or talk to anyone is amazing. ... He can talk to kings and still not lose the common touch."
Moss' father, Otis Moss Jr., worked together with Dr. King in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King even officiated the marriage ceremony of the guest speaker's parents.
"Otis' family has close ties to the civil rights movement. Otis is not reading the history, he knows the history," said Montgomery.
Moss joins a long list of influential speakers Dream 365 has brought to the Golden Triangle, including Myrlie Evers-Williams, Cheryl Brown Henderson, Ernest Green and many others.
All three primary organizers are quick to praise volunteers for the effort they put into Dream 365 each year and stress its goal is unity and hope.
"There's so much to learn, to glean, from this event," stated Montgomery. "It's always been our hope that it will bring people together, of all races, creeds and colors. For us, it's about the transformation of Mississippi into that oasis of freedom and justice. And for that to occur, it takes everybody."
For advance tickets or more information, call 662-855-1MLK (1655.)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.