“Celebrating Courage” has been a 50-day recognition of the 50th anniversary of UGA’s desegregation. Events and programs have not only honored the pioneering students who broke barriers, but of those who supported them and those who followed in their footsteps at UGA. The legacy of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, who bravely walked on to the UGA campus on January 9, 1961 to register for classes, and of Mary Frances Early, who entered graduate school that summer, continues today as students, faculty, staff and alumni work together to build a diverse university that is welcoming to all. Starting with opening festivities on January 9, the anniversary celebration brought back to campus some of the key figures from 50 years ago. Commemorative events conclude Feb. 28.
One of the final events was a speech delivered by Early, UGA’s first African-American graduate, who had a Valentine’s Day message for the sold-out crowd at the eighth annual Freedom Breakfast originally scheduled in conjunction with the national King holiday and rescheduled to Feb. 14 at the Tate Student Center.
“Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy by loving and serving others,” she said at the event, held in conjunction with the national King holiday. “In so doing, we can make America what it ought to be. We can help bring King’s dream to fruition. “Early said that King lived his life to serve others and that “we are left to complete his work.”
Early, who earned a master of music education degree in August 1962, spoke about growing up in Atlanta with segregated restrooms, water fountains, restaurants and buses. She spoke about studying in the only black library in Atlanta and not being able to go to symphony or orchestra performances. Early said in the early 1960s she wanted desperately to join the fight for equality, but because she worked as a school teacher she couldn’t join the picket lines. And after watching Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, who both went to the same high school as Early, ousted from UGA after a riot broke out on campus, Early decided to transfer to the university’s Graduate School.
“When I came to UGA in 1961, I couldn’t imagine coming to an event like this. I’m so pleased,” she said. “This breakfast is particularly special, because it’s part of the 50th anniversary of UGA’s desegregation and King’s work made UGA’s desegregation not only possible, but inevitable.”
Themed “The Power of the Dream: Celebrating Courage,” the breakfast also celebrated those who have made a difference in the community. After Early’ speech, the 2011 President’s Fulfilling the Dream Awards were presented to Josh Delaney, Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander and Donna Wilkins.
Delaney, a fourth-year student from Fayetteville majoring in advertising with a new media certificate, is the first undergraduate to receive the award. He was honored for his involvement with UGA student organizations and mentoring programs. He is president of the Student Government Association, former president of the Black Student Union and has been a mentor with the Friends for Life Mentoring Program for three years. He plans to join Teach for America after graduation and later pursue a master’s degree in marketing communication or political communication.
Bennett-Alexander, an associate professor of legal studies in the Terry College of Business, was honored for her work in promoting diversity issues. She has published extensively on employment law with an emphasis on issues of race, gender and sexual orientation. She often speaks on diversity issues for organizations and groups, particularly at UGA. Robert Sumichrast, dean of the Terry College of Business, called her a “living example of volunteerism, citizenship and community service.”
Wilkins was honored for her lifetime commitment to serving school and community. She has taught at Chase Street Elementary School for the past 29 years, teaching special education for the last 24 years. She is on the School Improvement and Leadership Team, has served as the chairperson of the African-American programs and is a teacher support specialist. She has been an active mentor for both children and adults through the Friends for Life Mentoring Program, Chase Street’s school-wide mentoring program and as a teacher support specialist for her peers.
This year a new award, the Corporate Responsibility Award, was presented to Georgia Power Co. for its focus on diversity and inclusion.