ELLERBE — The events for the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration 2014 came to an end at the annual luncheon that attracted 500 people.
Richmond County Schools Superintendent George Norris announced the winners of the essay and poster contests. The contest started a few years ago as an effort to engage the youth in the celebration for one of the most famous civil rights activists of all time.
“We always want to get as many folk involved as possible, so we went to superintendent’s office a few years back to get students involved,” said J.C. Watkins, celebration chairman. “We have an essay competition and a poster competition. All the schools participate in it.”
Those who enter the poster and essay competition are to focus specifically on the theme for the year. This year it was “Honoring the Past - Moving Forward Together.”
Cameron Anderson, an 11th grade student at Richmond Senior High School, was recognized as the poster competition winner Anderson decorated a poster that showed the past and the present — depicting the struggles of those that have come before Anderson’s generation to the present day society lives in. He entitled the poster, “Honoring the Past that Gave Us the Present.”
The winner for the essay competition was Jarod Ricks, also an 11th-grader at the high school. Ricks got up in front of the crowd of 500 to read his winning essay.
Ricks started off his essay by describing the everyday activities that people experience and how today we don’t necessarily focus our actions and thoughts on segregation.
“In the 1950s, segregation was defined as a fact of life,” Ricks said. “Despite the numerous attempts to initiate the integration of races, some people refused to allow it. Due to Martin Luther King Jr., we can now begin to live in peace.”
Ricks went on to discuss the importance of honoring the past and remembering what this holiday, celebrated on the third Monday each January, is all about.
“Without remembering, we cannot honor,” Ricks said. “Without honoring, we cannot progress and move forward.”
Daryl Mason, chief of operations at Leak Street High School, was also presented his award for his work with the youth in the county. Mason expressed his gratitude for being recognized and for the hard work of colleagues and staff.
The guest speaker for the ceremony was Dr. Eric Mansfield. Born in Louisiana and raised by a single mother, Mansfield is a military veteran, pastor, doctor and former N.C. state senator.
Mansfield implored the crowd to remember why this holiday was so important — and it wasn’t because it was a day off.
“To honor the past, we must recognize that there was a past,” Mansfield said. “It reminds us of where we come from and that we didn’t do it by ourselves. You’re here today because you’re standing on someone else’s shoulders.”
Mansfield recognized the many accomplishments that African Americans have made since the time of King, but also of the issues that now face the youth.
“At what point did it become cool to be a gangsta instead of governor,” Mansfield asked.
Mansfield cited the problem was there were too many “I don’t cares” in today’s society, and that needed to change. People in society needed to focus on the issues instead of skin color.
“We must stop seeing problems as black, white or Latino problems, but as American problems,” Mansfield said. “Once we get past the labels, we’re all the same.”