NASHVILLE, TN — Nashville law firm Bone McAllester Norton PLLC hosted its 17th Annual Fellowship Breakfast on Monday, honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event was held at the historic Woolworth on 5th, one of several lunch counters desegregated in 1960 by a group of Nashville students. Nearly 600 gathered to hear from guest artists, speakers, and community leaders on the history of Woolworth, Nashville’s role in the fight for social justice in 1960, and the call for justice today.
Stacey Garrett Koju and Charles W. Bone, co-founders of the law firm, welcomed the guests and laid the groundwork for the morning’s program, entitled Woolworth Speaks – Nashville: On the Frontlines for Social Justice, Then and Now. They compared today’s environment surrounding social justice to the challenges of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.
The event began with the Negro spirituals, “Lean On Me” and “A Change is Gonna Come,” sung by Charles “Wigg” Walker. The songs reminded the audience of how time has passed, but hope persists in the waiting: “It’s been a long, a long time coming / But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.”
Following Mr. Walker, Charles Robert Bone introduced Mayor Megan Barry, who has been a guest speaker at each MLK Fellowship Breakfast since her election in 2015. In her address, Mayor Barry reminded the audience that the future of Nashville and the future of our Nation rest in the hands of the children, teenagers, and young adults – just as many of the leaders of the civil rights movement were college-age students. She challenged the guests to take advantage of opportunities to mentor and invest in the young adults and children in their lives.
The first keynote speaker, Dr. Reavis L. Mitchell Jr., a history professor at Fisk University, addressed the history of Nashville’s place on the frontline for social justice. Dr. Mitchell drew to light the relevancy and existence of racism today. He said, “Racism has an ugly side, a continuing side that is still a part of the human tradition.” Dr. Mitchell’s comment begs the question, “What are our lunch counters today?” Dr. King’s legacy only continues through those who are willing to take a stand for justice.
Tom Morales, developer of Woolworth on 5th, then introduced his childhood friend, actor, writer, and motivational speaker Barry Scott. Mr. Scott performed a modern interpretation of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “I Have a Dream.” Mr. Scott’s powerful interpretation drew on the heartfelt emotions of the civil rights movement. He charged the audience to remember the purpose of the movement. He repeatedly said, “All reality hinges on moral foundation,” which left the audience asking the questions, “What do I believe? And what reality are my beliefs creating?”
Following Barry Scott, Reverend Becca Stevens, author, speaker, and founder of Thistle Farms, reminded the audience of the call placed upon every individual life. She quoted Micah 6:8, “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Rev. Stevens shared that justice is unattainable without the willingness to say, “Here I am, God, use me.” In order to continue the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., one must remember the call to love the marginalized, see beyond what the world sees, and say “yes” to the uncomfortable lifestyle justice demands.
The final keynote speaker was Dr. Ernest “Rip” Patton. Dr. Patton was one of the many students who participated in the lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Riders, and other protests of segregation. He honored sit-in participants who were present at the event – Frankie Henry, King and Mary Ellen Hollands, and others in the crowd who stood to signify their participation. Dr. Patton spoke of the bravery of the participants, who were willing to sacrifice their lives for this beloved cause. He talked about the methods and intentionality of the sit-ins, which required hard work. Everyone who participated in the movement had a different role, but of equal importance. Today when celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights movement leaders, it is often forgotten that the glory of the ‘60s was marked by blood, humility, and unwavering determination. It was only because of the unified conviction for a better life that the lunch counters became desegregated. Every day was filled with collaboration, sacrifice, and hard work. Dr. Patton urged the crowd to remember that a better tomorrow begins with a better today: “The time is always right to do what is right” (Martin Luther King Jr.).
Dr. Patton closed the program with a moving benediction and song that was often sung in the ‘60s by participants in the civil rights movement, “I Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Freedom.”