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Annual breakfast honors King

At first glance, the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast looked no different than the 15 before it.

Members from a colorful cross-section of the community gathered to eat, reflect on King’s life and celebrate a legacy that still promises hope for massive change in America.

But some people in the audience saw things differently.

Keynote speaker the Rev. Effell Williams and Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard noted the significance of this year’s event with the inauguration of the nation’s first black president a little more than 24 hours away.

People like Bobby Jackson, who used to attend the breakfast each year with her children, came even though her children are now adults.

She took a quick glance around the room before commenting on why this year’s breakfast was unique.

“I still take part in it to celebrate what it took to get us to this point,” Jackson said. “ I think it’s positive that it’s quite a mixed crowd. I see a lot more whites than I’ve seen in the past.”

The celebration included recognition of Ernest L. Doyle and the Rev. F.D. Reese, who both received the Distinguished Citizens Award.

Among Reese’s many contributions to the Civil Rights Movement were his marches with King on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which affected the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Doyle was the first black person on the Selma City Council, and both men were part of the “Courageous Eight,” the steering committee for the Dallas County Voters League.

Williams talked about the “audacity of hope,” using the phrase coined by President-elect Barack Obama. Williams rose from humble beginnings in a large family in Sumter County, attended college and worked in higher education before retiring and becoming founding pastor of Tabernacle of Praise Church.

However, Williams said progress is relative the opportunities all black people have.

“We can never say we have arrived when every minute a young black kid is arrested; when every five seconds a young black kid is suspended from school; every 45 seconds a young black kid drops out of school.”

“Men hate each other because they don’t know each other,” Williams later said. “They don’t know each other because they don’t talk to each other … Whether you like me or not, you still need me and I need you.”

Ballard said Obama’s inspiration to build a stronger country starts on a local level.

“He brings hope, not just to a race, but to a nation,” Ballard said of Obama. “We are in some terrible times. We all need to put aside any prejudice or any problems that we might have, except for prayer for our president that he will lead us through these times that we’re facing.”

Brandon Gibbs was attending his first unity breakfast and said he took the message to heart.

“It’s about time that we move out of the past and work together for the betterment of unity,” Gibbs said.