Serve others is theme of MLK Jr. celebration

By Lynn R. Parks

When Shawn Joseph was a junior in high school, he was given a book containing the speeches and writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The person who gave him the book, a volunteer through a Phi Alpha mentoring program with which Joseph was involved, challenged the young man to read one of Dr. King's writings per week.

The mentor went beyond that. "He didn't just give me a book and tell me to read it," said Joseph. "He sat down with me every week and digested Dr. King's writings with me. He openly talked with me about inequality, social activism, unjustness and greatness."

Joseph, who is superintendent of the Seaford School District, was the keynote speaker at Monday's Western Sussex 2013 M.L.K. Day of Celebration, held at Heritage Shores Golf and Country Club in Bridgeville. When he walked to the podium, he carried with him his worn "A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.," the book that his long-ago mentor gave him. From it, he read parts of a sermon that King delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., on Feb. 4, 1968.

"If you want to be important – wonderful," King wrote. "If you want to be recognized – wonderful. If you want to be great – wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servantÉThat definition of greatness means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serveÉYou only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant."

Joseph challenged his audience not only to be servants, but to commit to serving children. "Children are the most vulnerable citizens in our community," he said. "They all need somebody to extend a hand to them, to help them."

And that person who helps doesn't have to be a parent, Joseph added. "What made a difference for me was that mentor in my junior year, and that book that he gave me. He taught me about selflessly giving for the benefit of others."

The theme of this year's M.L.K. Day of Celebration was, "Everybody can be great because anybody can serve," taken from the King speech that Joseph read.

The Day of Celebration's annual community recognition award was given to John Hollis, former coach, teacher and administrator in the Seaford School District and currently with Nemours Health and Prevention Services. Hollis has served as senior vice president of the Delaware Community Foundation and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware, as well as personnel director for Delaware Technical and Community College in Georgetown.

"Coach Hollis has been a wonderful role model in my life," Desi Laws-Moore said in her introduction. "He showed me at an early age how we should treat children."

Like Joseph, Hollis challenged members of the audience to reach out to children. "Each of you has a unique situation and a unique personality to help a child," he said. "By this time tomorrow, you and you alone can make a tremendous difference in the life of another person, and in particular in the life of a child."

The Day of Celebration included performances by saxophonist Tony Smith and a skit by father and son Terence and Jair Moore. As Jair, who is 16, struggled with reading "To A Pupil" by American poet Walt Whitman, a poem that had been assigned by his teacher, Terence portrayed a string of characters: an African, a captured slave, an escaping slave, baseball player Jackie Robinson, Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall and a participant in the year-long bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955 and 1956.

"Is reform needed? Is it through you?" Jair read from the Whitman poem. "The greater the reform needed, the greater the personality you need to accomplish it." And then, quoting abolitionist Frederick Douglass: "If there is no struggle, there is no progress."

Gladys Briggs and her daughter, Jean, were among the people who attended the Day of Celebration. Gladys was a member of the Seaford School Board for 15 years and Jean is a teacher in the Seaford Middle School.

"This day represents freedom to us," Gladys said. "Look around at all the diversity that's here today. There are people of all colors. This day today represents what Dr. Martin Luther King was all about."

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