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Theme of NKY NAACP Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. luncheon resonates with those in attendance


By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The largest crowd in recent memory attended the annual Northern Kentucky NAACP Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Community Outreach Luncheon.

Jerome Bowles, president of the Northern Kentucky NAACP branch, said this year’s message, Remember, Celebrate, Act, resonated with those in attendance.

NKY NAACP Chapter President Jerome Bowles and Elijah Fox, a student at Covington Latin High School talked about how the messages of Dr. King remain relevant today (photos by Mark Hansel).

“We’ve been doing this luncheon for 17 years now and we’ve been very much in remembering, celebrating and acting on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,” Bowles said. “We think that theme goes along with the blueprint that he laid out and reminds us that the struggle is not over. We must collectively work together to overcome any racial or ethnic barriers that are out there.”

A message that Bowles hopes to drive home every year is to take the spirit of harmony at the luncheon into everyday life.

“The collective energy that is in the room today is what America is really all about,” Bowles said.

Elijah Fox, a student at Covington Latin High School and one of this year’s scholarship recipients, said he continues to learn valuable lessons at the luncheons.

“I learn so much here just about social movement and civil disobedience that can create progress in our society,” Fox, 18, said. “I think the Martin Luther King legend teaches me how to act and how to be there to help create stronger and more supportive movements. It’s learning by generational status, all of the things that they have been through and learning how to apply them in my own life situations and learning how to persevere through that.”

Fox plans to attend the University of Chicago, but said he hopes to return to Northern Kentucky to put his degree to use in the local communities.

Newport Independent Schools Superintendent Kelly Middleton said he brings a group of students to the luncheon every year, as do other school district leaders, and it’s a great experience for them. He credits Bowles and the NAACP for providing guidance to the next generation of Northern Kentucky’s leaders.

The Northern Kentucky Tribune was in attendance at the annual Northern Kentucky NAACP Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Outreach Luncheon at the Newport Syndicate Monday (1-20-2020).

Posted by Mark Hansel on Monday, January 20, 2020

The Northern Kentucky Tribune was in attendance at the annual Northern Kentucky NAACP Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Outreach Luncheon at the Newport Syndicate Monday

“We work with Jerome Bowles quite a bit and he comes in and mentors some our students and talks with them and he helps recruit teachers,” Middleton said. “We are very proud of the work that he has done and we hope the organization continues to grow.”

Dante Hall, a fourth grade student at Howell Elementary School in Erlanger, delivered a flawless rendition of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at Monday’s luncheon.

In what is becoming a luncheon tradition, Dante Hall, a fourth grade student at Howell Elementary School in Erlanger, delivered a flawless rendition of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The Keynote Speaker was Dr. Bonita Brown, Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, at Northern Kentucky University.

She began by providing a brief history of the struggles African Americans have faced in this country, from the days of slavery and the Civil War, through the era of Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement.

“Many blacks had had enough of feeling like second-class citizens and began to demand change, to demand justice,” Brown said. “This led to numerous marches, rallies, boycotts, and even led to violence, but it was worth it to fight for those rights, to segregate schools, to have the right to live where they wanted to, and stay and eat in hotels. Blacks in America wanted equality, to be treated like Americans.” 

As Brown spoke, Paula Hall of Newport, who works at Brighton Center, snapped her fingers to her sons and pointed them to the stage, encouraging them to pay close attention.

“I need them to know our history, so they can become part of the solution and knowing how blessed we are to be in the position we are in today,” Hall said. “We didn’t always have these rights and opportunities and they take them so much for granted.”

Brown recalled instances from her own family’s history, including a story recounted by her grandmother of the first time she was eligible to vote.

“She said her and her sister pulled up to the voting place and there were mobs of angry white men lined up on either side of the sidewalk, yelling and calling names,” Brown said. “She and her sister locked arms and walked down that sidewalk, determined to exercise their right to vote. She said it was the longest walk of her life, but she was not going to let the work of those who had gone before her be in vain.”

Brown also recalled an incident of discrimination from her youth in North Carolina, as she began applying for admission to some of the state’s flagship institutions of higher learning. 

It was suggested that she might want to consider applying to a two-year, or community college.

Keynote speaker Dr. Bonita Brown talked about the struggles of African-Americans, throughout the country’s history and shared personal accounts from her family that resonated with the audience.

Brown’s mother, a school principal, contacted the counselor and “rectified the situation.”

Brown was encouraged to apply at, and was accepted to, Wake Forest University.

Brown highlighted the accomplishments African Americans have made in the fields of science, athletics, entertainment and politics, culminating with the election of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008.

“African-American culture is rich and full of survival, heroism and success,” she said.

The Northern Kentucky Branch, NAACP also presented scholarships to students graduating from high schools in Northern Kentucky, as well as the Annual Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Education Partner Award, Dr. King Corporate Award and Keeper of the Dream Award.

The luncheon took place at the Newport Syndicate. Mistress of ceremonies was local television reporter Kristen Swilley.

Several other events took place Monday to honor Dr. King, including a joint remembrance by four Kenton County cities – Erlanger, Elsmere, Independence, and Covington, as well as commemorations in Florence and Independence.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com


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