Participants in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Observance on Monday at Vanderhorst C.M.E. Church in Thomson urged the audience of about 100 to remember the civil rights martyr's battle and to apply those lessons to their own lives.
Each generation can discern different lessons, Ken Britford said in an interview with The McDuffie Mirror . Pointing to the youngsters, he said, "At their age, you learn that Dr. King stood for family and everything that we benefit from today."
"At my age, I want to put the message out about that dream and not let it go to waste," he said.
He said "things have gotten better over time" but that people still must keep the light on Dr. King's dream.
Though he not yet born when Dr. King was slain, Mr. Britford said he realizes it was a stunning blow to the civil rights movement.
"I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. I feel like they did not feel like it was the end, but it was their turn to take the torch so it did not go out."
Mr. Britford is the assistant principal at Cousins Middle School in Covington, Ga. "I work in a middle school," he said, "and I always say, 'In order for you to go forward, you need to know your past, and the foundation that's been left for you.' "
In his statements to the group, Mr. Britford urged everyone to take advantage of hard-won education opportunities.
Panelist Yolanda Copeland, the social worker for McDuffie County Schools, also spoke with The McDuffie Mirror.
"I think today we're going to focus on Dr. King's message of nonviolence, in view of all the domestic violence and how it's contrary to Dr. King's message," she said.
She said her work calls for her to encourage very young women and girls to expect respect for themselves so they do not fall prey to hurtful relationships. Ms. Copeland has been a school social worker for 14 years.
In her remarks to the audience, she said she also works with debutantes, to "introduce young ladies to society, to make sure they're going to be well-rounded young ladies."
Facilitator and speaker Dr. Carl Pettis said dreams are made of images and emotions.
"I'm curious, though: How many of you dream about your future?"
He said all ages and ethnicities need to focus on "those dreams that you have the inherent power to control."
He said Dr. King worried about the loss of self-respect and respect for elders. "These things were slipping even back then, during our fight," Dr. Pettis said. He challenged the audience to "make an indelible mark on this world for yourself and others."
He quoted from Dr. King: "Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking."
Dr. Pettis is the chairman of the Mathematics and Computer Sciences Department at Alabama State University, and the director of youth programs for that school's Division of Continuing Education.
Charles "Chuck" Pettis Jr., a banker and teen counselor who lives near Atlanta, called on youth to respect others and themselves. As for the King holiday, he said, "It's not considered a day off for the celebration, but a day on."
Mr. Pettis is the manager of a Chase Bank branch and the assistant youth director for boys at Faith Temple in Fairburn, Ga.
The Rev. Colatta Ficklin, the employment manager for the Augusta Transitional Center, said the Augusta agency helps former inmates look for jobs. Men are trained to prepare rÃ©sumÃ©s and to interview and then are led into the community. "I see the other side of the dream, what happens when the dream is not fulfilled," she said.
The Rev. Ficklin also is an associate pastor at Jenkins Memorial C.M.E. Church in Hephzibah.
"Any success without Christ is failure," she said. "There are no limits on what you can be, and can have, but you also must have Christ."
Evangelist Cheryl Wright, a founder of Total Image Ministries, was the keynote speaker.
"Our mission is to encourage you to get joy, peace and happiness in your everyday lives," she said.
She said 24-hour and 48-hour retreats are held for women and girls ages 14 to 94, who spend that time without telephones or TV.
"You drop off everything that is not of God," she said.
She said she teaches discipline and respect for others, including young people often described as "at-risk."
The Rev. John W. Smalley, the church pastor, welcomed participants and offered the church's appreciation and support. He told of a recent health emergency of his own and shared that the experience "creates a sense of love in your heart, that God gave you another chance."