Birney Imes: The quest for unity


Birney Imes



Someone said the huge flag came from the Marble Works. It made a fine backdrop for the swearing in of seven men we''ve chosen to guide our city these next four years.  


At the Trotter Convention Center on this beautiful Thursday afternoon, two days before Independence Day, family, friends and well-wishers, filled all but a few of the 600 chairs available for the swearing in of Columbus'' mayor and city council. They heard messages about building community and fostering unity.  


First Baptist pastor Shawn Parker gave an opening prayer, calling Mayor Robert Smith a man blessed with an uncommon humility. Rare is the day someone accuses a public official of having humility. Let''s hope that''s changing. 


"Help them work together to build community," the Rev. Parker prayed, "a community that is unified ... a community that is peaceful."  


"We love this community and want to be safe, healthy and prosperous," Mayor Smith intoned. "Let''s remove the barriers of race, geography and language ... " 


In Robert Smith''s case, that''s not idle talk; the mayor has worked hard to remove barriers. 


"Each of you come as individuals," the Rev. James Boyd told the councilmen and mayor. "You must abandon your individual dreams; you must abandon your individual visions. Columbus must be one. One ward does not make Columbus; each ward together makes Columbus. 


"You must look beyond color," Boyd continued. "You must look as human beings created by God. Unfortunately, you are not blessed with time to criticize the past; you must pick up the torch and run as fast as you can." 


For the swearing in of the mayor, Susie Summerville came on stage with a Bible she had personalized for her partner years ago. On the front in gold letters: "Councilman Robert Smith." 


Then the mayor swore in the councilmen. 


Afterward the crowd mobbed the stage to talk, shake hands and pose for pictures. Then all repaired to the lobby where there was much eating of shrimp, wrapped sandwiches, buffalo wings and sliced fruit. No one seemed in a hurry to leave. 


Joe Dillon looked distinguished in a dark suit. So did newly elected Joe Mickens, who at 6 feet, 6 inches is the tallest councilman; Bill Gavin at 5 feet, 6 inches is the shortest and 71-year-old Fred Steward, who starts his fourth term, is the oldest and longest serving.  


Ike Brown (6 feet, 5 inches), who may know more about Mississippi politics, than anyone alive, was on-site. The ever good-natured Brown, who Thursday chose to talk rather than eat, was the mastermind behind Mickens'' upset of Susan Mackay. Though, to hear Brown tell it, it wasn''t an upset. 


"It ain''t no secret; get ''em to the polls," Brown laughed, talking a mile a minute. "We used to joke it''s the one with five cars who doesn''t feel like voting that''s the biggest problem. 


"I tell them, if they want to go on TV, that''s nice," Brown continued, "but you got to get ''em to the polls." 


Deposed councilman Jay Jordan was all smiles. No one has said anything to me about potholes today, he said. 


Jordan''s replacement, Kabir Karriem, seemed to enjoy himself as well. So did Kabir''s mother, Helen, and his brothers Kamal and Hussien. 


The only political talk I heard was about the soccer complex. Seems Burns Bottom has fallen from favor. That''s the talk. Apparently, enough people have expressed outrage at the idea of soccer fields in an area so prone to flooding and two blocks from downtown. A couple of people mentioned an expansion of Propst Park. 


Here''s hoping the newly elected candidates take Thursday''s messages to heart. With humility, strive for unity; look beyond color; don''t criticize the past. Sage advice. Do all that, and I bet we''ll be amazed by the result. 


Write or phone Birney Imes at The Commercial Dispatch, 516 Main St., Columbus, MS 39701, 328-2424, or e-mail him at [email protected]


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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