Civil Rights Activist and Author Myrlie Evers-Williams served as the keynote speaker for the event this year. Past speakers have included such luminaries as Martin Luther King, III, Colin Powell, Donna Brazile, Marian Wright Edelman and Vernon Jordan.
Prominent in her own right, Mrs. Evers-Williams was further thrust onto the national civil rights stage in 1963 when her husband Medgar Evers – then field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – was shot and killed in front of the family’s Mississippi home. Mr. Evers’ killer was ultimately brought to justice in 1994.
Mrs. Evers-Williams captivated the audience during her half hour address, not by using a bold voice or thesaurus-worthy vocabulary. Instead, she used a measured, engaging and serious tone to tell a gripping story of how her husband, she and other leaders like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King worked to secure and retain civil rights for all citizens. Sadly, in the cases of her husband and Dr. King, they gave their lives for the cause of equality and justice.
With the presidential inauguration just four days away, breakfast attendees may have anticipated the Mrs. Evers-Williams would articulate a view on the recent federal elections. Instead, she said, "I am not going to get into a public debate on the president-elect and the state of America except to say I am very concerned." She did acknowledge, however, that "this country has many challenges before us."
Her message of overcoming tragedy and trials resonated with the diverse crowd of slightly more than 2,000 that included women and men; young and old; people of many races; Republicans as well as Democrats; Jews, Christians and Muslims. Mrs. Evers-Williams noted the broad diversity of her audience and concluded that the “room filled is with people who believe in freedom and justice.” Many of us felt an enhanced call to action.
Many states including our own state continue to deal with issues such as economic, employment and educational disparities. So regardless of where we reside along the political spectrum, it is clear we all still have work to do.
This great gathering celebrating the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at our "relationship building" helped to bring many of the people together who will have to continue the hard work that is still ahead of us.