Education a key toward fulfilling King's Dream
By Jim Turner

Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM

While life in the United States offers far more opportunities for African Americans in the 21st century than it did prior to the work and subsequent assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there are many problems facing minorities today that Dr. King would be addressing if he were still alive.
There’s much left to be done for all people to be equal, those attending the speaking portion of the 25th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Unity Walk Friday, Jan. 14, in Logan County Courthouse were told.
Most of those participating had braved frigid weather to march from Bank Street Church “in the Bottom” to the upstairs courtroom at the historic old courthouse. That could be considered symbolic of the contrasts between the way African Americans were treated before the movement led by Dr. King to now. Both history and the continuing search for upward movement were discussed by speakers on this special day.
Two panelists actively involved in the movement were Charles Neblett, president of Russellville’s Community Projects, Inc., which sponsored the day, and Leo ‘Kwame’ Lillard, who led the Nashville portion of the Freedom Riders group. Lillard made the most impressive presentation of the day when he brought four random students from the audience-two black and two white-to play the roles of young people engaged in a 1960s sit-in in the Deep South. Lillard-in the role of “Good Ol’ Boy”-and Neblett (‘Bubba’) showed how those teens were harassed as they quietly and peacefully protested the way “colored people” were being treated in those days.
Dr. Nancy Dawson , who volunteers her time to help Logan County youngsters prepare for better adult lives, also made an impression talking about problems facing many people in the United States-the inability to afford health insurance. A highly educated person whose COBRA insurance had reached its limit and too young for Medicare, she couldn’t get affordable insurance because of “pre-existing conditions.” Dr. Dawson put off going to the doctor because she couldn’t afford health care. As a result, she developed gangrene, effectively died on the operating table before being revived, underwent six surgeries, spent a month and a half in the hospital and now owes hundreds of thousands of dollars. “If Dr. King were still alive, the right for health care would be something he would be striving for,” she said.
Michael Morrow , local African American historian and head of the West Kentucky African American Museums, spoke passionately about the need for employment opportunities for young blacks. “We work with them in the summers and try to teach them what’s right, but if they can’t get a job anywhere else, there’s always someone ready to give them a chance to make big money selling drugs, until they end up in prison,” he said. “If the churches and community are not giving jobs, why are you all so satisfied (with the way things are now).”
African Americans represent 31 percent of Kentucky’s total prison population even though blacks comprise 7.9 percent of the state’s population, said keynote speaker John Johnson, a Franklin native who is executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.
Johnson presented a number of other staggering statistics for Kentuckians: 73 percent of whites own their own homes, 42 percent of blacks; 20 percent of whites live in poverty, 41 percent of African Americans; the unemployment rate for whites is 8.6 percent and for African Americans 14.5 percent; the number of diabetes deaths per 100,000 population is 22.5 for whites, 52.6 for blacks; and the infant mortality rate per thousand live births is 6.5 for whites, 12.5 African Americans.
Neblett, who led those attending in song, talked about the role of music in the movement. “When the deputies would come into the jails and prisons where we were housed, we would start singing. Music kept us together,” he said. Mt. Herman Baptist Church pastor Lee Roy Fishback discussed the connection between the church and the movement. Commonwealth Attorney Gail Guiling talked about being fortunate to have been reared in a home in the 1950s and 60s where all races were considered equals.
County Attorney Joe Ross served as master of ceremonies and said his own history demonstrates that what Dr. King and his associates accomplished have affected all races. He noted that he was essentially blind while he finished high school and started college, and had it not been for the Americans with Disabilities Act he might never have had the resources and equipment he needed to attend college. He said the ADA is an outgrowth of equal rights initiatives.
The key to improving lives of young African Americans and all Kentuckians is improving the quality of education in the state, the Human Rights Commission’s Johnson said. The percentage of Kentucky graduates deficient in one or more subjects in 2008 was 35.3 percent among whites, 50 percent in other races. In math over one-fourth of white Kentucky graduates were not ready for college, 38.5 percent among others. In English 19.3 percent of whites were not college-ready, 27.9 percent of others. Stats were similar in reading, all according to ACT scores.
In the class of 2008, only 14.3 percent of the 14 students in the local schools taking Advanced Placement tests scored the minimum for college credit, according to the Kentucky College and Career Readiness High School Feedback Report, even though the local grade point average was 3.09, as compared to the state 2.94 cumulative GPA. The local graduation rate is 91.4 percent as compared to the state’s 84.5 percent mean. Yet many are ready for college.
“Here in Logan County, 41.7 percent of your graduates are not college ready in one of more subjects,” Johnson said. “As keepers of the Dream, we must insure that every child has access to-and obtains-an equal, sufficient and meaningful education.
Johnson noted only 4.5 percent of teachers in Kentucky are minorities, as compared to a minority student percentage of 13. Kentucky’s 136 school districts have just 38 female superin-tendents and two African Americans overall.
Lillard said he was impressed that the local schools saw to it that students were encouraged to participate in the day’s activi-ties. He said many Metro Nashville schools would not to that.
A large percentage of the audience was comprised of students, who had been transported to the event by Russellville High School Principal John Myers and Logan County High School teacher Tim Arnold. Russellville Superintendent Leon Smith was present, as were Representative Martha Jane King, County Judge-ExecutiveLogan Chick and Russellville Mayor Mark Stratton.
Several awards were presented to those who took an active role in making the day a reality. Marvinia Neblettwas in charge of most of the planning. RHS student Kesi Neblett presented the awards.
John Johnson warned everyone: “Unless those who pause periodically to honor his birth and life-leave with a greater determination and commitment to make real the promise of democracy in this town, and in our state, then it becomes meaningless.”

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