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Students share spotlight at Freedom Award Public Forum

  • Written by Dorothy Bracy Alston

FreedomAwards-KeeperOfDreamThe National Civil Rights Museum's 2012 Freedom Award Public Forum, sponsored by International Paper, and annually hosted by Temple of Deliverance COGIC took place Tuesday (Oct 16). It provided an opportunity for students and the public to participate in this historic event.

Excitement is one of those things that will often become evident before the excited person even says a word.

Such was the case Tuesday morning (Oct. 16) at The National Civil Rights Museum's 2012 Freedom Award Public Forum hosted by Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ and held in its sanctuary. Derrick Joyce, chairman of the Memphis Academy of Health Sciences (MAHS), was a case study for excitement.

"I'm excited that one of my students is receiving an award today," said Joyce, MAHS's chairman. The Forum had not yet started.

"Check her name out in the bulletin," he said, turning to the page that designated the 2012 Keeper of the Dream winners.

Kymberly Dyson, a MAHS 11th grader, was one of the three student honorees listed, along with Grace St. Luke's Episcopal School eighth-grader Battle Boyd, and sixth-grader Camille Johnson from Schilling Farms Middle School. Before the morning forum had concluded, each had enjoyed front-row and on-stage attention from a roaring crowd of public, private and charter school students.

"Ten years ago we were knocking on doors to get people interested in the first approved charter school in Memphis," said Joyce, talking about MAHS, which was started by the 100 Black Men of Memphis. "Now we have a very long waiting list."

Dyson and the other socially conscious youth honored shared the spotlight with men and women of national and international prominence – the 2012 Freedom Award honorees: Dr. Bernard Lafayette, National Freedom Award; Dr. Muhammad Yunus, International Freedom Award; Marlo Thomas, Humanitarian Award; and Drs. George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt and Sampson Davis (aka "The Three Doctors"), Legacy Award.

The Legacy Award, introduced in 2009, honors "a new generation of leaders who embrace justice, equality and opportunity and made an impact on society early in their careers." Jenkins, Hunt and Davis made a pact in high school to become doctors and they did just that.

Jenkins, the only member of the trio who made it Memphis, accepted for the others. He was introduced by John Faraci, chairman and CEO of International Paper, a longtime sponsor of the event.

Faraci pledged that he and the company's 70,000 employees would continue "sharing the stories of struggles, success, obstacles and opportunities" of the National Civil Rights Museum honorees.

Forum emcee, Ursula Madden of WMC-TV 5, announced, "It's celebration time!"

Courtney Richardson and Friends serenaded attendees. They swayed to the Collage Dance Collective and the DIAMONDS Praise Dance Company's interpretive dance. The dancers leaped jubilantly to a gospel rendition of "He Brought Me."

Oh yes, there was food. A special award presented by International Paper went to the first two schools to register for the Public Forum. The winners, Coro Lake Elementary and Dexter Middle School student attendees, will receive a pizza party, Their schools will receive a full pallet of 8 ½ X 11 paper.

The forum's talk show layout followed a Q&A format. Video clips of each honoree were followed by questions from Madden, and later questions from the student audience.

George Jenkins

• "Someone told me I was smart when I was young. That was important and I believed that."

• "When my third grade teacher filled me with that, I took it and ran with it."

• "No one pursued excellence in my neighborhood. Those who went to college never made themselves available to us."

• "Each one of us was told we were not smart but we believed in ourselves. We drug each other to the finish line."

• "You must surround yourself with positive people. I surrounded myself with positive people."

• "Never believe you are not smart enough, you just have to study a little more."

• "We went to Seaton Hall on a scholarship, but when we got there, we learned that someone had mismanaged the money and we had to pay for our own education. It was expensive. The three of us got busy. There was no Internet, so we pulled out the 3,000-page scholarship book. Each of us took 1,000 pages each and we found money, little here and a little there."

• "We soon realized the better you do, you will attract better scholarships."

• "Every 'A' matters, every good grade. Everything that's expected of you matters. Every time you do what's expected of you it helps you. It helps get you to that bright future."

• "Then they will throw money at you."

• "We're passionate about being role models. Everyone who did well didn't come back. We do it because we know what we would have like to had in a role model."

Dr. Muhammad Yunus

• "The bank is owned by the borrowers. You build self-confidence in people that they can handle their own destiny. Then you focus on the second generation, and we have succeeded. They now attend college. They are doctors, lawyers, engineers."

• "We have a new generation who's now literate and successful, but who came from indigent people. It's brought transformation within the family."

• "We have five branches in New York City with 10,000 borrowers with loans of $3,000 and a repayment of 99 percent. We've done it in Indiana."

• When asked if it could be done in Memphis, he answered, "Yes."

Marlo Thomas

• The first is curiosity. It's the ability to notice things around us. If you don't notice things, you can't fix anything. Notice what's happening around you."

• "Two kinds of people in the world: those who stop at accidents and those who drive by the accidents."

• "Second is to have a sense of humor about life, because there's so much sadness and struggle in life. It's all about lifting the spirits while healing the body."

Dr. Bernard Lafayette

• "Our kids are the smartest generation ever."

• "It's a waste to create a genius mind and they get their heads cut off. We must deal with the issue of violence. I know how to stop violence. I teach Martin Luther King. We know how to stop violence and transform people from nonviolent behavior."

• "We need a youth legislature. A youth board of education; A youth county commission for youth under eighteen. Youth without representation. They pay taxes like we do?

• "We need to take education to the community and they will learn how to be citizens. Memphis can help. There are places to meet. Start in the churches and the community centers."

(Dorothy Bracy Alston is a journalist, author, freelance writer and adjunct English professor. Visit Dorothy's blog at http://www.CisbaAssociates.blogspot.com; join her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dorothybracyalston, email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 901-570-3923.)

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