Speaker remembers unsung heroes at MLK luncheon
Dyer County residents attending the 2013 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon and Community Celebration on Friday were treated to a look at the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.
An annual partnership of Dyersburg State Community College and the Dyersburg/Dyer County Chamber of Commerce, the luncheon took place in the commons of the DSCC Student Center at noon, on Friday, Jan. 18.
Lake County Director of Schools Col. Corwin K. Robinson was the featured speaker at the event. Robinson, who served as the commanding officer of the U.S. Army 533rd Engineer Unit before taking his position in education, gave those attending the luncheon a firsthand account of the integration of schools in southeast Louisiana during his childhood.
"Each person here has a personal civil rights story," said Robinson, who said any resident -- no matter their race -- who helps another or receives help from another has their own civil rights story. "My civil rights story has a lot of unsung heroes, people (who were) working on the grassroots level, where the rubber meets the road."
As a young boy living in turbulent southeastern Louisiana, Robinson remembers being included in a group of students slated to integrate one of the last two 'holdout' schools in the southern portion of the state.
"It was a challenging time with the things going on in our country in those days," said Robinson. "I was 11 years old and I just heard talking. Worried parents, worried citizens, wondering if their children were going to be OK. But when I got to that school, it was the most wonderful experience I have had in school to date. I excelled in school and on the football team. We moved straight ahead and we were one happy family. And to this day, some of us still keep in touch and keep up with each other."
Robinson said his experience with integration is an example of why the United States is such a wonderful country.
"In our country, once someone identifies a problem, we put our very smart brains together and we put our hearts together (and) in God's time, the solution is there and we embrace that solution and keep moving forward," said Robinson. "There is greatness in each and every one of us and we need to spread that to each other."
Robinson named teachers through his academic career - both African American and Caucasian -- who he calls the unsung heroes of his civil rights story.
Willetta Burns, Willie Wheatley, Phyllis Pigott and Betty Jo Thomas were educators Robinson remembers taking the time to invest in the lives of their students, no matter their race or gender. No doubt this example is one of the driving forces behind Robinson's drive to cheer on the "little guy" and lift up those he comes into contact with.
"I always root for the underdog," said Robinson. "And when I visit a school, I try to speak to as many people as I can. When there is that one student sort of hanging back, too shy to say anything, I make certain I go over there and lift that person up."
Robinson also took the time to acknowledge many other unsung heroes of the civil rights movement, many who gave their lives so that others may enjoy their God-given freedoms.
Encouraging those attending to be "great Americans" by continuing to do positive things in their own communities, Robinson reminded his audience that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not about race.
"Dr. King had a message," said Robinson. "It was not just about the right to vote or to eat where you wanted to eat. It is about all of those things. It is not about race. It is about having a common decency, a common respect."