January 8, 2011 10:40:00 PM
In May 1958, Ernest Green made history by becoming the first African-American to graduate from Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. Martin Luther King Jr. attended the graduation. At the beginning of that tumultuous school year, Green and eight younger black students had been dubbed the "Little Rock Nine," after attempting to enroll at the previously segregated school, only to be initially met by the Arkansas National Guard.
On Monday, Jan. 17, Green, who has been the subject of two made-for-TV movies, will be in Columbus as keynote speaker at the Dream 365 Martin Luther King Commemoration Day Breakfast. The appearance of the Congressional Gold Medal recipient and former Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs, under President Jimmy Carter, at Trotter Convention Center is one of several highlights in a four-day celebration honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
"Someone once asked me if Dream 365 is everything I envisioned it would be," said Learnard Dickerson, one of the co-founders of the event in 2005, along with the Rev. Tony Montgomery and NAACP Columbus Chapter President Lavonne Harris. "My response was, all we did was plant a seed, which was watered by volunteers, nourished by organizations, took root in our city, and has grown and blossomed where an entire community enjoys the fruits it bears."
In addition to an inspiring speaker, the extended weekend, designated a Top 20 Event for January by the Southeast Tourism Society, will encompass a national headliner comedy show, talent and step shows, a gospel concert, awards and scholarships, and, new this year, a Community Day of Service.
Dickerson explained, "The United Way Community Volunteer Center is partnering with Dream 365 to coordinate volunteers for beautification projects, working on homes for the elderly, doing paint and clean-up ... people are giving their day to help others; it''s all part of the MLK Community Day of Service Saturday, Jan. 15."
Montgomery added, "This project will actually give back in a major way, actually put sweat equity into pulling our community together and improving it."
Showtime at the Trotter
Dream 365 2011 launches Friday, Jan. 14, with "That''s Wazzup!" -- an adult comedy show headlined by Mark Curry, probably best known for his lead role in the ABC sitcom "Hangin'' with Mr. Cooper" and as a host of "Showtime at the Apollo," as well as appearances in movies including "Armageddon" and "Switchback."
Special guest comedian Damon Williams is a veteran of the Kings of Comedy Tour. BET and HBO audiences will know him from "Showtime at the Apollo, "Comic View," "Def Comedy Jam" and "P. Diddy''s Bad Boys of Comedy."
The 21-and-over evening begins at 7:30 p.m. at Trotter Convention Center and includes an adult talent competition. Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 at the door. VIP seating is also available.
Youth night, gospel
Showtime at the Trotter continues Jan. 15 with a youth and collegiate Step Off and Greek Show talent competition at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $10.
Dream 365 co-organizer Lavonne Harris said, "This year we''re also going to have the college steppers coming in, with the Greek show; that will be new. You''ll be surprised at what all these kids and people can do."
Dr. King "opened the door for everybody" Dickerson pointed out, noting the talent competition can also open doors, helping young performers "live the dream" -- like show alumni "American Idol" semi-finalist Jasmine Murray and the Outta St8 Boyz, who have gone on to appear on the BET 106 and Park music video show.
Music continues Sunday, Jan. 16, as eight to 10 or more choirs and groups converge at the Gospel Spotlight at Lee Middle School Auditorium at the corner of Military Road and 18th Avenue North. Admission will be a donation to the Dream 365 scholarship fund.
Unsung Heroes and Oasis of Freedom and Justice Awards will be presented during the Commemoration Breakfast Jan. 17 to individuals and organizations who exemplify "the philosophies of Dr. King''s vision."
Unsung Heroes honorees include Nancy Guerry of Helping Hands; Marilyn Agnew of the Columbus School District; Rhonda Sanders of the Columbus Police Department; Roger Burlingame of CECO Building Systems; Cableone; and the Freedom Riders, represented by Viola Weatherby and Ruby Harrison.
Oasis Award recipients will be Senior Judge Dorothy Colom of the 14th Chancery Court District; Interim President Allegra Brigham of Mississippi University for Women; James Tsismanakis of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Pastor Darren Leach of Genesis Church.
The 8:30 a.m. breakfast at Trotter will also recognize student essay and creative arts contest winners, and include the address by Ernest Green. Tickets are $15.
The four-day celebration also enables Dream 365 to give multiple scholarships. "There''s not a better testament to children living their dreams than getting an education," said Dickerson.
The multi-day event is possible thanks in part to support from the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, Wal-Mart, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Eka Chemicals, Waters Transportation Services and Cableone, among other generous sponsors.
Dream 365''s success is also attributed to a host of dedicated volunteers.
Harris praised, "Every year it gets bigger and bigger. It''s not about the three of us (founders Dickerson, Harris, Montgomery), it''s about the committee. We have some faithful, faithful members -- those are the ones who really do it."
Dickerson added, "If you can do one thing, if it''s volunteering on the day of, if it''s sponsoring, or giving a kid a scholarship, whatever it is, you own part of this dream. ... Dream 365 is not just about celebrating the holiday but trying to live the dream every day. We hope the things we do are leading to that, or having an impact on somebody''s life in one way or another."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.