MLK Day speaker: Education the best hope

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- Addressing the crowd at the 2011 King Day Celebration banquet Monday, Lonnie King, an Arlington native who helped lead the civil rights movement on its college front, issued a call to action to past and present civil rights leaders to help educate young black men before "we become an endangered species."

Although no relation to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Lonnie King said he was a friend of M.L. King Jr. long before he became the revered leader of the civil rights movement, having first met the civil rights icon and his father when and his family moved to Atlanta and joined Ebenezer Baptist Church.

In speaking to reporters before his speech, Lonnie King said he believes that M.L. King Jr. likely would've been content being a preacher had the civil rights movement never knocked on his door. Once it did, however, the minister felt compelled to make it his life's work, Lonnie King said.

It was a message he echoed while addressing those who attended the King dinner, calling them to act.

"We have got to do something about the education of our children. We have been asleep for 40 years, Albany," he said. "... We need to stop and form a coalition like the Albany movement, like you did in 1961, to deal with the education of these young African-American children. We need to find a way to work on this problem: black, white, rich, poor. Because if you don't, you will be a relic in 20 years."

Pointing to a joint problem between a lack of education and what he said the selective prosecution of young black men who then get sent to the prison system, Lonnie King said that it would take a comprehensive community effort bring real change at the community level.

Lonnie King joined a list of distinguished King Day Celebration honorees who have included former Ambassador Andrew Young, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and former Gov. Roy Barnes as speakers.

Also honored Monday were the 2011 Dream Award recipients. The award winners -- lawyer Charles Lamb, TV personality Karla Heath-Sands, businesswoman Joyce Barlow and journalist the Rev. Jim Perks -- were each honored for their community work that speakers said epitomized the teachings and principles preached by MLK.

Funds raised at the King Day Celebration this year benefit the Albany Civil Rights Institute. Events include an art contest held throughout the Dougherty County School System and entertainment from local groups.