Although students took the day off on Monday, January 21, many may not fully comprehend the significance Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has on our lives today. The Dalton Middle School Success Academy spent January 24 learning and listening as black community leaders discussed the history of Dalton and their experiences growing up as individuals of color.
After a tour of the Mack Gaston Community Center, a site rich in history of Dalton's black community, the students gathered to hear from a panel of four leaders and ask questions. The panelists were Tulley Johnson, DPS school board member; Curtis Rivers, director of the Emery Center; Deborah Macon, a dedicated community volunteer; and Tommy Pinson, director of the community center.
The panel members discussed their opinions and recollections on segregation, integration and breaking down the barriers that separate us.
"It comes through communication with one another," said Johnson. "When you start talking, you realize we are all similar. We are all important."
Rivers added that it takes time to intermingle and people of different races should not wait around to get to know each other. "We have come a long way, but we still have a ways to go," he said. "I'm always happy to be around students, answer their questions and give advice. Please come on a tour of the Emery Center. We have a lot of history to share with you, and you'll have a lot of fun."
Students asked questions such as, "What was it like growing up in the South?" "Do you feel like we have come a long way, or is racism still a huge issue?" "How did you become a community leader, and what advice would you give to young people?"
"When I think of what makes a community leader, I think of Martin Luther King, Jr. He never sought out his role as a leader, but because he was making great decisions, acting as a good person and people thought so highly of him, he became a spokesperson for the civil rights movement," explained Pinson. "You can be a community leader, too, even in your classroom. You just have to have a passion to change things. When you step out, people will follow."
Breakout sessions between the panel and lunch included tours of the center's fitness areas and volleyball, as well as a short class from local fashion designer Julia Michelle. Michelle talked to the students about her start in fashion, presented the different careers available in the industry and gave the students a chance to try their hand at creating their own designs.
"Fashion changed my life. Because I found something I loved, I felt like a 'somebody.' All it took was one person showing me how to sew," said Michelle. "You have to find a hobby, or something that you love, or you're not living. Push the doors open and let the world see your talents."
As students ate lunch, provided by Trinity United Methodist Church, longtime educator Minnie Marsh spoke to the students about hearing Dr. King's "I have a Dream" speech live as a young girl.
"If you think being in the eighth grade is not important, think about me that day when I heard Dr. King from the television in my living room. He talked about how one day we could all be equal and have equal opportunities."
Just a few years later, Marsh was one of the first classes to integrate at Dalton High School. Not long after that, she would return to teach at the schools she was once told were "not for her."
"Appreciate your teachers and anyone working to give you a better life," Marsh reiterated to the students. "All of you are important. We are all one people!"