Athens, Ga. – Billye Aaron, an advocate for higher education for African-American citizens and the wife of baseball legend Hank Aaron, will be the keynote speaker for the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Breakfast on Jan. 13 at 7:30 a.m. in the Grand Hall of the University of Georgia Tate Student Center.
“Mrs. Aaron has been a dynamic media personality and educator, and she has remained committed to academic excellence, philanthropic activities, community involvement and the betterment of children,” said Michelle Garfield Cook, interim associate provost in the UGA Office of Institutional Diversity. “We are thrilled she will be with us at the upcoming MLK Freedom Breakfast.”
Aaron’s commitment to higher education began when she received her bachelor’s degree from Texas College and later her master’s degree from Atlanta University. During her graduate studies, she met and married Samuel W. Williams, a Morehouse College professor of philosophy and religion, the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta and a distinguished civil rights leader. She was widowed in 1970.
Considered a trailblazer in many of her endeavors, Aaron made her debut on WSB television’s “Today in Georgia” in June 1968-becoming the first African-American woman in the Southeast to co-host a daily, regularly scheduled talk show. In her broadcast role, she interviewed local, national and international celebrities and dignitaries, including Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Prime Minister Linden O. Pindling of the Bahamas, Sidney Portier, Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda and Pearl Bailey. In 1975, Aaron transferred to WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee hosting her own weekly talk show called “Billye.”
Simultaneous to her media career, Aaron taught on the high school and college level for 12 years before marrying Hank Aaron in 1973.
For 14 years, Aaron was one of the United Negro College Fund’s premiere fundraisers-retiring in 1994 as vice president of the Southern region. She founded and nurtured the Mayor’s MASKED Ball (Mankind Assisting Students Kindle Educational Dreams). The MASKED Ball has become one of UNCF’s longest running and highest grossing special events. Upon retiring from UNCF, Billye and her husband founded the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation, a philanthropic trust that provides funds to children between the ages of 9-12 to help them in developing their special talents and chasing their dreams.
She has been a member of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Board (founded by Thurgood Marshall) for more than 25 years. A lifetime member of the NAACP, her involvement with the Atlanta branch dates back to the early 1960s. For five consecutive years, Aaron served as chair of the NAACP premiere fundraiser, the Freedom Fund Dinner.
Aaron’s commitment to higher education opportunities for African Americans continues to be evident through her service on the board of trustees of her alma mater, Texas College, and Morehouse College, where she serves as chair of the Educational Policy Committee. She has received honorary degrees from Texas College, Allen University and Spelman College. She and her husband received the 2003 Martin Luther King Jr. “Salute to Greatness” Award.
Sponsored by the University of Georgia, the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government and the Clarke County School District, the MLK Freedom Breakfast commemorates the life of Martin Luther King Jr. This year’s theme is “The Power of the Dream: Moving Forward with a Shared Vision.” The UGA School of Social Work is co-sponsoring Aaron’s lecture.
In addition to the keynote address, recipients of the local President’s Fulfilling the Dream Award are recognized each year at the event. The award highlights the work of local citizens who have made significant efforts to build bridges of unity and understanding as they strive to make King’s dream of equality and justice a reality. Nomination forms for this award may be acquired by contacting UGA’s Office of Diversity (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via the website (www.uga.edu/diversity). All documents must be submitted no later than Nov. 18.
Tickets for the MLK Freedom Breakfast are $18 and $144 for tables of eight. Tickets will not be sold the day of the event. To order tickets, see http://diversity.uga.edu/index.php?/events/detail/2012_mlk_freedom_breakfast/.