Dr. Joanne Walker Flowers almost brought the walls of the Carver Recreational Center down as the keynote speaker of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration on Monday night.
Through waves and waves of applause, Flowers discussed her experiences as a world traveler and situations abroad that have helped her build her Christian faith. Throughout her anecdotes, she continued to go back to a single focus in her speech: compassion.
There was a time when she said she was reluctant traveling to Turkey because it was a Muslim country. Thirty thousand feet in the air, she found herself in the midst of a heated conversation with a Turkish man, who went on in detail about King’s life and legacy.
She said this showed her that when King was speaking or engaged in appearances, the whole world was watching. This drew the approval of the celeration’s crowd.
Another time, in Kenya, Flowers said she found herself in a male-dominated spot, where the women weren’t given the same privileges as the men in watching her speak. She called for the women to have proper seats before she would continue, and was met by a collective decision that the women thought they were strong enough to watch without having a seat.
She said was struck to learn that people in Kenya were surprised to see so many black people in the United States.
Her speech, titled “Going from Complexion to Community,” was presented to the crowd of about of 100, and concluded with Flowers telling the crowd that as great as King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech was, she thinks his legacy goes far beyond that. Flowers summed up her talk with a recommendation to push children in the right direction.
“Dr. King had a dream,” she said. “But we have work to do.”
King’s legacy was felt by some of the younger attendees of the dinner.
Sequoia Sanders, 10, who attends Mountain View Elementary School, said she’d come to the event in the past, loves the food and had a personal appreciation for King’s message.
“He was a great inspirer, and a leader in the U.S.,” Sanders said. “He fought for all of us to be equal.”
Sanders’ pal, 8-year-old Elissia Edmonds, from North Side Elementary School, agreed, saying King changed the country immensely, and that he’s someone to look up to because he’d done a lot make everyone equal.
The evening was hosted by Carver Center supervisor Herb Greenlee, and featured several musical performances from We Five.
Although Flowers’ speech was one of the top draws, a buffet was the first item of the night’s agenda, with attendees eating a spread of ham, turkey, gravy, corn, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls, mashed potatoes and a variety of cakes for dessert.
Another portion of the evening featured Johnson City Police Department Chief Mark Sirois honoring two retired police officers with community awards.
Sirois thanked Flowers for her speech, and touched on a King line himself when he said his two officers should be judged by the content of their character. The chief said these officers served the city before themselves, to a burst of applause from the audience.
Anthony “Tony” Murray was in the JCPD for 26 years after a few years in the military, and enjoyed working most of his career on patrol, calling it “his baby.” Wayne “Chuck” Carroll was also honored for his 30 years on the force. Sirois touched on Carroll’s time as a DJ with WETS, and his distinction as a pioneer for school resource officers in the area.
One story told by Sirois included the day he and Carroll and some other SROs traveled to Knoxville for training for officers in schools. The day was April 20, 1999, the day that tragedy struck Columbine High School in Colorado.
Greenlee said Carroll was one of the people keeping young people safe in local schools.
When Carroll took the microphone, he issued a challenge to all in attendance, hoping they’ll do their best to get all the children they could into college and to keep them out of trouble.