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Area leaders honor Dr. King during 33rd annual Unity Breakfast

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Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin speaks during the Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. (City of Birmingham)
Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times

The spirit and wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. permeated the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex’s North Exhibition Hall on Monday as thousands gathered for the 33rd annual Unity Breakfast held in downtown Birmingham.

City officials and community leaders from across the city were in attendance including Mayor Randall Woodfin, President of Birmingham City Council Valerie Abbott, state Rep. Juandalynn Givan,  Sheriff Mark Pettway, District Attorney Danny Carr and Jefferson County Commissioners Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson.

The keynote speaker was Mark Pettway, who was elected in November as the first African-American sheriff in Jefferson County.

“We are here today to honor one of the greatest activist and leaders this world has ever known,” Pettway said.

The sheriff said Dr. King paved the way for him to take office in Alabama’s most populous county.

“I just want to thank Dr. Martin Luther King Jr…I want to thank him for fighting for my right to vote, I want to thank him for challenging unconstitutional laws. I want to thank him for being a man of faith. I want to thank him for speaking up for me to have a better life,” the sheriff said. “I want to thank him for never quitting the fight for justice. I want to thank him for making this a better place for everybody that is here today.”

The theme throughout the morning was the love that Dr. King preached as opposed to the divisiveness seen in many parts of the country today.

“The hate we see on display in our country today and city today, there are too many people standing and sitting on the sidelines,” said Woodfin.  You are going to have to decide what you do you want to do. Coming to a unity breakfast is not enough…and so my greeting to you this morning is very simple, ‘get off the sidelines.’”

Abbott said Dr. King’s legacy was about hope. “And all we have right now is hope. And hope without action is just hope. ‘I hope things get better,’ but they’re not going to get better if I don’t do anything, they’re not going to get better if you don’t do anything,” she said.

Givan also spoke about hope.

“The audacity of hope today is the fact that we are sitting up here…with the very first black elected sheriff of Jefferson County, Mark Pettway. The audacity of hope is that we went to the polls black…, white…, Jews, gentiles and Catholics, to say to this county that we can send the first African-American man [Danny Carr] to head of our law enforcement in the District Attorney’s office. That is the audacity of hope. Those are the dreams that Martin Luther King and…(civil rights icon) Fred Shuttlesworth fought for.”

Carr used Dr. King’s words during his speech. “Hatred, only love can drive away hatred. Darkness, only light can drive away darkness,” Carr said. He also referenced a well-known quote: “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

“Let’s turn on the lights in our communities, let’s turn on the lights in our schools, let’s turn on the lights in our … youth,” he said, “and let’s turn on the light to justice, let’s turn on the light to integrity, let’s turn on the light to honor, and let’s make sure that the legacy of this great man that we are here on behalf of today carries on.”

He added that while it takes a village to raise a kid, “it also takes a village to make sure that there’s equality. It takes a village to make sure that there’s justice and it takes a village to make sure that we drive crime out of our communities and take guns out of our young people’s hands.”

Speakers also talked about the loss of Birmingham police Sgt. Wytasha Carter who was shot and killed on January 13 and whose funeral was Saturday, January 19. Another law enforcement officer was killed over the weekend in Mobile.

“It touched my heart to know that he [Sgt. Carter] was on duty and protecting the city, but over the weekend we found out we loss another officer to another senseless and untimely murder, here in Alabama. We have to do something about that, said Pettway. “These are the ones that protect you while you’re sleep, while you’re at work, protecting the children while they’re at school, protecting why you’re at the churches and synagogues, your mosques. They look after you day and night. Let’s help our officers do their job.”