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MLK Unity Breakfast in Birmingham Draws Sold-Out Crowd From Across Region

Dr. Cornell West delivers remarks on Monday during the 38th annual MLK Unity Breakfast at Birmingham Southern College on Monday, January 15, 2024. (Marika N. Johnson Photo, For The Birmingham Times)

By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson

The Birmingham Times

State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, keynote speaker at 38th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast in Birmingham on Monday issued a strong reminder to the sold-out audience.

“Has the dream come true,” she asked. “Do we live in a world that [Dr. King] dreamed for us? Did he dream a bigger dream for us than we could dream for ourselves? Many strides have been taken, glass ceilings shattered, and trails have been blazed, but it is imperative that we not forget the progress we have made and the sacrifices it took to get us here.

National, state and local leaders joined Givan and community leaders and student essay winners at Birmingham Southern College to commemorate the legacy of King, who rose to worldwide prominence as he fought for Civil and Human Rights for people around the globe.

BSC, located near Birmingham’s historic College Hills neighborhood, is the first college to host the Civil Rights commemorative breakfast, after years at Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.

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Givan, who has been an avid supporter of funding to help the financially struggling college to stay open, told the crowd that she has achieved much because of those who sacrificed before her and paid homage to slaves and ancestors and Dr. King’s legacy, sacrifice and leadership.

“I am the hope and the dream of a slave,” said Givan. “We must also not forget that our people have struggled and fought for equality for too long only to come as far as we have. To realize the dream, we must work cooperatively and remain on the path of righteousness. It will take a strong leader to bring us to full realization of King’s dream.”

She added, “Dr. King will forever be the greatest Civil Rights icon. His dream is not deferred. His dream has not ended … Dr. King had the audacity of hope.”

Also at the breakfast, Dr. Cornel West, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, said Birmingham was “ground zero” for the Black freedom struggle, adding “it’s always been the leaven and the loaf of American democracy and Martin Luther King, Jr. exemplifies it at the highest level.”

“But let us never forget in all of our celebration, the blood, the sweat, the tears, the Foot Soldiers and most importantly, that he comes from a great Black people that in the face of chronic hatred for 400 years keep dishing out love warriors every generation and MLK is one of the great love warriors …. of the human story,” said West, who is running for U.S. president as an independent candidate.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell of the 7th Congressional District said King’s example continues to guide her in life and in service.

“We are encouraged to rededicate ourselves to the values Dr. King so fervently upheld – the values of empowerment – political and economical, solidarity, and an unwavering belief in the essential goodness of humanity,” said Sewell. “Moreover Dr. King’s enduring message of hope and perseverance continues to guide so many of us.”

Sewell said King is certainly worthy of the federal holiday, but added the significance of his legacy is greater than one day. “Every day is Dr. Martin Luther King’s Day, because every day, we have the opportunity to serve,” said Sewell.

Community leaders in attended included members of the Sherman Heights Neighborhood Association.

Olivia Johnson, President of Sherman Heights, said,  “This is so powerful for us to be here to be with the Foot Soldiers, to share with the youth and to just fellowship with one another for the purpose of improving the quality of life for all individuals.”

Betty J. Thomas, another member of the group, said the gathering shows “we are serious about what’s going on in our country and in our communities and we want our kids to have the knowledge to be able to be great citizens and great students,”

Aaron Carlton, Executive Director of the Community Affairs Committee and the organizer of the breakfast and a Birmingham native, said there was a historical significance of having the breakfast at BSC.

“We’re at a campus that Black people weren’t even allowed to look at [during the Civil Rights Movement. And now we’re having dinner, lunch and breakfast. And that’s amazing and a compliment to Dr. King and his legacy.”