Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY -- Sounding at times more like a Baptist minister than a seasoned politician, Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond called on Georgians to follow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s example and embrace faith and education as means to survive economic woes.

Thurmond, the keynote speaker for Monday's 2010 King Celebration at the Albany Civic Center, acknowledged what he said were the tough times Georgians -- especially the more than 500,000 who are currently unemployed -- are facing, but said that turning to the fundamentals of life and faith will aid in weathering the storm.

"You have what you need," Thurmond said. "Your momma and your daddy left you courage and wisdom but, most importantly, they left you with faith in a true and righteous God. You all have what you need.

"Jesus can't be outsourced, furloughed, laid off, right-sized or fired. And if he's still on the job, everything is going to be all right."

Thurmond, who is the state's first black labor commissioner, pointed to a shift in statistics for those applying for unemployment insurance and secondary school enrollment, emphasizing the importance of heading back to school as a means of getting a jobless life back on track.

According to Thurmond, white males are now the largest demographic with unemployment insurance, followed closely by black men. That statistic is a reverse from before the recession, when black woman were the largest recipients of benefits.

Conversely, men of both races are the lowest demographic enrolling in post-secondary schools like Albany State University, Darton College and Albany Technical College, he said.

"We have got to get our men to embrace education," Thurmond said. "We can't just sit around and wait for our jobs to come back, because they won't. The future job market requires a skilled and adaptable work force."

The King Day Celebration also serves as a fundraiser for the Albany Civil Rights Institute, which chronicles the movement that changed America in the 1960s.

The event also highlights those in the community who have continued King's legacy of humanitarianism and the advancement of society. The "Dream" awards, were given Monday to Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards, Lily Pad Executive Director Karen Kemp and community advocate and educator Sandra Pinkney Parker.

Albany and King figured prominently in the civil rights movement. Beginning in December 1961, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, along with the NAACP, led an eight-month demonstration here, protesting the ongoing segregation of local public facilities. For weeks, they marched through the city, held rallies and prayed.

The demonstrations landed King and others in jail, but brought national attention into the heart of the South and eventually prompted desegregation of public facilities in Albany in 1963.