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MLK Jr. Unity Breakfast draws diverse crowd of Birminghamians

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Keynote speaker J. Mason Davis. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Complex in Birmingham Alabama Monday January 15, 2017. (Frank Couch / The Birmingham Times)

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

For The Birmingham Times

Keynote speaker J. Mason Davis. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Complex in Birmingham Alabama Monday January 15, 2017. (Frank Couch / The Birmingham Times)
Keynote speaker J. Mason Davis during the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham Alabama Monday January 16, 2017. (Frank Couch, special to The Birmingham Times)

Hundreds of early-risers shared breakfast and historic reflections Monday morning during the 31st Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast.

The reading of the Birmingham Pledge and the singing of “We Shall Overcome” in the North Exhibition Hall of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex served as a reminder of unity among the diverse crowd gathered to honor the slain civil rights leader.

“Through our unity we are stronger,” Congresswoman Terri Sewell said in her greetings. Birmingham Mayor William Bell said, “as a people, we can move forward when we work together.”

Johnathan Austin, president of the Birmingham City Council, cited the sacrifices that have been made by past generations.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said. “We still have many challenges facing us. It’s going to take all of us for the city to reach its full potential. Together I think we can make Birmingham one of the best cities in the world.”

Members of the audience recite the Birmingham Pledge. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Complex in Birmingham Alabama Monday January 15, 2017. (Frank Couch / The Birmingham Times)
Members of the audience recite the Birmingham Pledge. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Complex in Birmingham Alabama Monday January 15, 2017. (Frank Couch, special to The Birmingham Times)

Odessa Woolfolk, president emeritus of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, recognized Foot Soldiers who fought to end segregation in the city. “Dr. King would not have been here,” she said, “were it not for the groundwork that you did.”

Attorney J. Mason Davis, the keynote speaker, took the audience on a trip down memory lane, providing perspective to the historical journey toward unity, but also looked ahead citing concerns with the election of Donald Trump.

“Once they [Republicans] repeal the Affordable Care Act, they have nothing to substitute for it,” he said. “Are our folks going to go and be like the French were in 1898 when Marie Antoinette looked at them out there and said, ‘Give them cake. Let ’em die. Let ’em die.’ Is that what we want?”

Davis ended his speech with a call for vigilance.

“Be cautious and be wide awake,” he said. “Learn your history. Learn where you came from. Remember who your grandparents were. They did good things. They may have worked in the man’s kitchen. They may have worked in the steel plant. They may have been convict laborers. But they did decent work and that built this country.”