Shelby County NAACP hosts virtual MLK celebration

More than 90 people attended the Shelby County NAACP’s 18th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Virtual Commemorative Celebration on the morning of Monday, Jan. 18.

Although the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prompted the group to cancel its traditional march and in-person program in Montevallo, participants and guests gathered via Zoom to honor King’s life and legacy in a program titled “Still Marching and Fighting for Justice.”

“We’re just thankful to be able to continue to bring this program and to honor Dr. King and his service and what he means to us,” said the Rev. Kenneth Dukes, president of the Shelby County NAACP and a Montevallo City Council member. “This program will outlive every one of us on this screen. We want this to be something that will be a legacy for all of us to remember.”

Shelby County NAACP First Vice President Bobby J. Pierson introduced keynote speaker Derrick Gilmore, who serves as the executive vice president at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa.

A 1989 graduate of Montevallo High School, Gilmore spoke about his childhood in Montevallo and the people who molded him as a person and prepared him to achieve his adult goals.

“In my professional career, I’ve had the opportunity to traverse this country and to aid in the development of national models that support engagement and success of minorities,” Gilmore said. “However, as I catalog my daily walk in life, what I’ve found is that I had a tremendous informal network that formed a community. My mother had laid the foundation for that.”

Gilmore used his upbringing as an example in highlighting the importance of building up young people in the community and planting the seeds of civic and social responsibility in them.

“I choose to walk in the sunshine and honor Dr. King’s memory based on his call to action and knowing that it is as relevant as ever,” Gilmore said. “We know that voting is one of the most effective means of having our voices heard as demonstrated again in the most recent state and national elections.”

Gilmore said the underlying message of his remarks is that “we truly stand on the shoulders of giants.”

“These giants like Dr. King allow us to see beyond our current circumstance,” he said. “They give us a vision of the future and a path that must be traveled for righteousness. A lot of you are truly giants within our community, and we have to remember that and what our responsibilities are as far as being a platform for those who come after us to see.”

Gilmore challenged the young people to “grab hold” of the giants in their communities to see their vision for the future, and the adults to be “bridge builders” for them.

“I can promise you today that I’ll continue to do that work. I’ll continue to be a light and hold that lantern for future generations to see as they grow and prosper and prepare for greatness in this world,” he said. “I want to continue to be a voice for people of color in this community.”

Dukes displayed a medal to be given to Gilmore at a later date honoring him as a recipient of the Civil Human Rights Drum Major Award for Service, Dedication and Leadership.

In addition, Gilmore will be presented with a certificate and plaque for his service to the community.

Other speakers during the program included Dr. Andrea Eckelman, executive committee member of the Shelby County NAACP, Montevallo Mayor Rusty Nix, Montevallo City Councilmember Lelia Mitchell and Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles Director Cam Ward.

Shelby County NAACP Treasurer Julia Craig sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and the Rev. Alex Nelms gave the opening and closing prayers.