‘For generations unborn’: Fifth annual MLK breakfast hosts Freedom Rider Diane Nash

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Sylvester “Sunshine” Lee played traditional African-style drum rhythms as people strolled into the Wool Ballrooms to take part in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Tribute at 8:30 a.m.  Those that arrived were welcome to enjoy a breakfast buffet as they enjoyed each other’s company and Lee’s music; however, most attendants of the tribute were anxiously anticipating the keynote speaker, Diane Nash.

The tribute was hosted by Michael P. McMillan.  McMillan presides over the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, Inc.  The event provides a time to honor those who have contributed greatly to their communities in the spirit of MLK, and those honored during the ceremony included Dr. Tiffany Anderson, the Rev. Starsky Wilson, Dr. Celerstine [CQ] Johnson, and the Centene Corp.

Anderson, a superintendent of schools in the Jennings School District, was honored for her contributions to impoverished districts and turning them around for the better.  She helped lead University Academy, a charter school to become one of the best performing in the country, and has taken her current district from an unaccredited status to exceeding accreditation benchmarks.

Wilson was appointed by Gov. Nixon to co-chair the Ferguson Commission in the wake of the protests that followed the death of Michael Brown.  He is also the president of the Deaconess Foundation and the pastor of Saint John’s Church, which has invested more than $75 million to the St. Louis region.

Dr. Johnson worked for 30 years as a promoter for diversity at SLU and was the founder of SLU’s Black Alumni Association after the completion of her doctorate there.

Centene Corp. was honored for their investments to the St. Louis community.

After the awards were handed out, Nash took the stage to talk about her time walking “in the light of creative altruism.”  Nash, a civil rights leader who worked alongside MLK and founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, first explained how she was going to attempt to speak on behalf of those whose voices have not been heard.

She spoke of the strategies used by the activists during the sit-ins at segregated lunch counters and their use of “Agapic Energy,” a term she admits she made up.  Nash characterizes agapic energy as the way to “wage war with love instead of hate.”  She stressed that agapic energy is focused around the killing of an attitude instead of a person because the issues the activists faced were not people, but unjust systems.

Throughout the civil rights movement, Nash said there were many who did not believe that any of the actions being taken would ever work.  She spoke of multiple communities where the black citizens doubted that their neighbors would ever stick together long enough to bring about change.

Nash spoke highly of the young activists she sees today, protesting against a system of oppression and admonished those that did not wish to get involved in the cause of justice.  She called out elected officials for their lack of properly representing their constituents and encouraged young activists by saying “you’re not going to do worse than they have!”

Nash’s parting words were what she said both she and her fellow activists would remind themselves of when they found themselves thrown in jail, subjected to violence, or just facing a stubborn individual.  She recalled: “What we’re doing is important.  What we’re doing is for generations unborn.”