January 9, 2010 7:50:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
As the national observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day nears, area volunteers are fine-tuning plans for Dream 365, a four-day celebration in Columbus honoring the life and legacy of the civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jan. 15-18.
The vision and name for the event is rooted in a 2005 collaboration involving Learnard Dickerson and the Rev. Tony Montgomery of Columbus, partners in The Joshua Project -- a local non-profit entity to enhance youth mentoring, education and community service -- and Lavonne Harris, president of the Columbus-Lowndes Chapter of the NAACP.
The comprehensive event has since become one of the most expansive in the state and garnered two consecutive Top Twenty Event designations from the Southeast Tourism Society, one of those for 2010.
The weekend encompasses talent showcases and musical entertainment -- including a concert by blues and Southern soul artist T.K. Soul -- a youth step show, choir concerts and community and youth awards and scholarships. It concludes with a keynote address by Mayor James Young, the first African-American mayor of Philadelphia. The Mississippi city is often remembered as the site of the murders of three civil rights workers in 1964.
"The beautiful thing about Dream 365 is that it reaches all audiences," said Dickerson. "We have a family component, a youth component, a gospel component and a great speaker in Mayor Young of Philadelphia. We try to reach everybody."
Dream 365 kicks off Friday, on what would have been King''s 80th birthday
Tickets are available in advance at Bryan''s Records and Pet Center (cash only), 2003 Main St., in Columbus and at various area businesses.
The Oasis of Freedom and Justice Awards are Dream 365''s highest honor, given each year to 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," noted Rev. Montgomery. King used the phrase in the oft-quoted 1963 "I have a dream" speech in Washington, D.C.
The prestigious awards will be presented at the commemorative breakfast Jan. 18 to Hilbert Williams and Rick McGill of Crye-Leike Properties Unlimited; Taylor Smith, representing the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen; Brandy Jackson, of Urban Radio Broadcasting; and Bishop Bobby McCarter, of Charity Missionary Baptist Church.
"It means a lot to be chosen; we feel humble and grateful," said Williams of the Oasis Award he and longtime business partner McGill will receive. The two men have been in the same office since 1985 and hung out the Crye-Leike shingle in 2002. McGill concurred: "We weren''t expecting this; I''m extremely humbled by it."
The realtors, one black and one white, have built a strong company they refer to as a big family. Their long-lasting partnership and friendship serves as a role model for the community, Dickerson feels.
"Hilbert and I both were raised in similar situations, with no silver spoons," said McGill. "And we have the same work ethic; that''s one of the reasons we''ve gotten along so well. We''ve been around each other so long, I can start a sentence and Hilbert can finish it."
McGill laughed, "We make that remark all the time about being salt and pepper; but you look at all the partnership teams that I know of that fell apart ... we don''t look for reasons for it not to work; we make sure we''re doing the things that make it work."
Williams, a past president of the Golden Triangle Association of Realtors, as is McGill, admits he hasn''t seen many similar partnerships in his extensive travels throughout Mississippi.
Dickerson added, " ... Watching that relationship, just from the diversity aspect, seeing them working hand in hand like brothers, in an outfit that has grown into a record-breaking business, has been rewarding. And they still maintain their identity; that was one of the things that stood out -- their commitment to who they are and who they represent, as well as what they give back to the community."
Also being honored at the Jan. 18 breakfast will be those selected as Unsung Heroes. They include Annie Barry, Vanessa Carter, Rose Mary Cockrell, John Dickerson, Lisa Elmore, Dennis Erby, Harry Ford, Marjorie Fuller, Helen Karriem, Rebecca Partain and Becky Thomas.
"We don''t always get a chance to say thank you," Dickerson has said, "but we want to let these outstanding individuals know what they do makes a difference."
Strong on education
Dream 365 maintains a bold focus on education and youth. Even before the 2010 MLK weekend, when more contributions are expected, the committee already has $5,000 earmarked for scholarships to area students, Dickerson said.
In this year''s city-wide essay and creative arts contest, students were asked to interpret the theme "Setting Goals and Reaching Dreams." Seventeen winners will be recognized at the Jan. 18 breakfast.
First place honorees include Sarah Weatherby, a senior at Columbus High School; Clayton Jordan, a Columbus High 10th-grader; Jasmin Hayden, a sixth-grader at Hunt Intermediate School; Brooke Johnson, a fourth-grader at Fairview Elementary School; and Ja''Tavius Neal, in kindergarten at Stokes-Beard Elementary School.
A host of volunteers are at the heart of Dream 365, Dickerson stressed.
"There is no way an event of this magnitude could be as successful if it weren''t for our volunteers," he praised. "We have a great network; and when I say great, I mean great. Tony and Lavonne and I didn''t imagine it would take on this form. People are just so gracious."
The co-organizer continued, "They get off work, tired, and come to meetings and plan this thing for 11 months. And they''re passionate to the point that it really touches your heart; it''s just very inspiring and moving. I think it speaks volumes to what Dream 365 is about."
The Jan. 15-18 celebration is made possible through substantial support from the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. Major sponsors also include Walmart, Urban Radio Broadcasting and The Commercial Dispatch.
For more information about Dream 365, contact Dickerson at 662-425-1234.
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Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.