Patrick B. McGuigan
Midwest City, Oklahoma – Hundreds filled the second floor ballroom at the Reed Center adjacent to Rose State College Midwest City for the Twentieth Anniversary Prayer Breakfast marking the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday in the state capital metropolitan area.
Keynote speakers for the event (reportedly the largest-ever) were former state Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, and former state Sen. Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City.
In his eloquent comments, Banz praised Dr. King, who was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Recalling the March of Washington in 1963, when the Baptist preacher addressed several hundred thousand attendees from the steps of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Concerning Dr. King’s still-revered “I Have a Dream” address, Banz said of that moment in U.S. history, “There was no need to wait any longer. No more time to pretend problems did not exist.”
He hailed King: “His leadership at that moment in our nation’s history set in motion forces still at work today.”
Banz incorporated the story of “three women of color challenging the status quo in the work place at NASA’s space program” – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson. Their story has been lifted up in the new motion picture, “Hidden Figures,” which Banz described as “must-see.” He said of the trio that what they “were doing for the outer-space program in the early 1960s Dr. King was doing for inner space relations.”
In efficient yet wide-ranging comments, Rep. Banz said Martin Luther King, Jr., “heads the list of many ‘somebodys’ in our nation’s history who have given us a self-governing Republic based on the principles of the worth and dignity of the individual, equality of opportunity, majority rule with minority rights, and the process of governing that makes it possible to peacefully modify our system in pursuit of a ‘more perfect union.’”
Banz praised military veterans, including several in attendance, for defending American liberties. Sitting with him at the breakfast was Paula Mason, daughter of James Mason, who served America as part of “the greatest generation” – those who wore the uniform during the Second World War.
After Banz’s address, the Clara Luper Community Service Award was presented to Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes. He joined the local law enforcement unit in 1979 as a patrol officer, rising through the ranks to the top job. The longest-serving chief in the agency’s history, he guides 127 employees with a yearly budget of $13 million.
Event chair Vivian Woodward praised Clabes for his leadership in the past year, in the way of local, state and national concern over police-involved shootings of African-Americans.
Clabes described himself as “so thankful for the recognition.” He shared stories of his long friendship with the late Mrs. Luper, the legendary leader of the peaceful lunch-counter sit-ins of the 1950s and 1960s whose efforts resulted in desegregation of public accommodations in the Oklahoma City area.
He recalled his closeness to Luper, including a time he and a colleague gave her a ride home after a community meeting. He accompanied her to her doorstep, and the venerable senior said as they reached it, “Honey I want to give you a kiss.”
As she leaned, he turned his cheek expecting a peck on the cheek — but she turned his face to her and surprised him, kissing him “right on the lips.” The crowd roared with laughter and applause and, even from a distance, Clabes appeared to blush with joy as the crowd reacted to the tale.
Second keynote for the morning came from former Sen. Johnson, whose reflections focused on the “Tapestry of Unity” theme. Johnson said it is the task of each subsequent generation to find the time, patience, creativity, determination, and commitment to “treat everyone equally and respectfully. We can’t afford to drop a stitch.”
In fashioning the “beloved community” as Dr. King envisioned, Johnson said, each one now living must consider the task as would an artist. She listed those she contends still stand outside the reach of America’s dream, calling for their inclusion.
The current chair of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP), Johnson advocated that Oklahoma to end the use of capital punishment. Hoping “each of us” will “contribute to the tapestry,” she imagined a world in which the models of King, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa were made common-place.
In an interview with The City Sentinel, Prayer Breakfast Chair Vivian Woodward repeatedly offered thanks to the scores of volunteers who made the event come to fruition.
She also marveled at the generosity and “faithful support” of program sponsors, including OK-CADP, the Oklahoma County Republican Party, Peace House, Prosperity Real Estate, Respect Diversity Foundation, Shades of Oklahoma Magazine, St. John Missionary, The Refreshing Campus, the Oklahoma City MLK Holiday Coalition, Millwood Public Schools, First Unitarian Church, Earthly Ministry Foundation, Chesapeake Energy, the city of Midwest City, B&B Catering, BancFirst, Avest Bank and Advantage Bank. State Rep. George Young, a past honoree at the MLK Breakfast, attended the event, which traditionally kicks off the day-long holiday festivities.
Cindy Van Keley of Edmond’s Baha’i Center spoke offered an invocation, while Pastor Michael E. Johnson, Sr., of The Refreshing Church provided the benediction.
The Midwest City High School Jazz Band performed great music of the “Big Band” era during the breakfast hour. Three members of Boy Scouts Troop 1864, based at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, presented the national colors.
Musicial highlights included OK3 (Makenna, Sierra and Courtney), whose rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, using exquisite tight harmonies, brought cheers.
With angelic voices, Anice Young of Shawnee’s Galilee Baptist Church and her “A Capella” companions delivered a mini-concert, while Alice Harris offered a poignant sketch of black youth, moving into the definitive African-American spiritual, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
Just before formal welcoming remarks by Midwest City Mayor Matthew Dukes, Officer Johnathan Williams of the Guthrie Police Department lifted hearts present with a flawless reenactment of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Taylor Christmon led the audience’s soaring blended voices for James Weldon Johnson’s Black National Anthem, including this aspiration: “Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand, True to our God, true to our native land.”