After paying tribute to local people who had served as their mentors while they were growing up in Hannibal, speakers at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration Sunday, Jan. 20, at Hannibal High School challenged students to stay in school and take the most difficult classes they are offered, to help achieve successful careers.
Dr. Starla Green-Ivey, a professor at the University of Missouri, said she was thankful for Hannibal High School “for putting me in some of the hardest classes." She also thanked her parents for attending all of her high school events, adding “You helped me become a better person and my children to become better people.”
At the University of Missouri, she said she “kept trying to push and take harder classes.” She also advised students to “align yourself with a mentor,” and after succeeding to help others. She added that “my footsteps were led by God.”
The celebration was sponsored by the Hannibal African American Life and History Project and the 2012 Juneteenth Celebration Committee. It also marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Faye Dant, founder and executive director of the African American Project, and Marsha Mayfield of the Juneteenth committee both introduced speakers.
Dr. Starla Green-Ivey, Steve Kyer, Mayfield and Dant all expressed their appreciation to local black leaders who had encouraged them in their youth. They also explained how their education had provided opportunities for successful careers.
Kyer, president of Advance Medical Services, said he gave “all the honor to God” for his success. He said when he was young “everyone knew where he was” and people lived in neighborhoods, but Hannibal is different now. He outlined how his family got into the health care business to help people.
Kyer paid tribute to the former Douglass School for providing the education black youth needed, and said at HHS “we didn’t always apply ourselves,” but Mrs. Bringer had encouraged him to take more challenging classes, which helped him when he attended Culver-Stockton College. He also was thankful for the legacy provided by his parents, Robert and Lenora Kyer, and his grandparents. Kyer was joined by his wife, Marcia Hilton-Kyer, to sing “Living My Life.”
W.T. Johnson, assistant principal of Veterans Elementary School, read parts of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington. He also read King’s final speech on the night before he was killed on April 4, 1968, including “I’ve seen the promised land. My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
As the featured speaker, Tim Polley, executive director of Hannibal Regional Medical Group, stressed four things: education, opportunity, faith and fear. He said he had to learn to take opportunities offered to him, after turning down some. He came to Hannibal from Chicago four years ago and later joined the Hannibal Regional Medical Group.
Page 2 of 2 - “I believe there’s a reason for me to be here,” Polley said. Stressing he learned to say yes, he said “I do it for my father, who died when I was 10.” He advised students to get an education, say yes to opportunities, have faith “you can make it work” and “don’t fear fear.”
Later in the program Kyer invited the black men in the audience to join him on stage, naming many of them and sharing ways they had served as mentors for him and other youth. While they were on stage, Kyer and his wife sang “God’s Black Brothers.”
Another musical number, presented earlier in the evening, was a dance to the music of “Take Me to the King” by the Praise Dancers from the Embassy Christian Center.
At the end of the program, Mayfield was honored by Lou Lemen, executive director of the United Way of the Mark Twain Area, for her role in founding the Parents and Youth Reaching For Educational Excellence and Cultural Togetherness (PYRFEECT) organization 20 years ago and seeking United Way funds. Lemen explained Mayfield had said, “we’re losing our kids. We’ve got to teach them about their heritage.” PYRFEECT is involved in the Juneteenth celebrations.
Mayfield also received a plaque from Dant, inscribed with “The Power of Prayer” and picturing a family praying together. Mayfield said Dant chose those words “because she knows I do a lot of praying.”
See photo gallery for more photos of the celebration.