Campus News Society & Culture

Freedom Breakfast looks to the future during 20th anniversary

Shown, from left, are UGA President Jere W. Morehead with Andrea Dennis, the Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander Inclusive Community Award winner; keynote speaker T. Dallas Smith, founder and CEO of T. Dallas Smith & Company; and the 2024 President’s Fulfilling the Dream Award winners Terris Thomas, Caleb Snead and Brian Leffler. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Annual event honors legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Breakfast celebrated its 20th anniversary at the University of Georgia by looking forward with the theme, “The Power of the Dream: Building a Legacy for Generations.”

“We come together to celebrate a true giant—one of the world’s most influential leaders, a champion for justice and equality, and a man whose life and legacy continues to inspire all of us,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “Thank you for being part of a celebration that truly honors Dr. King and recognizes the collective work that is still happening around this country and in this community.”

T. Dallas Smith, founder and CEO at T. Dallas Smith & Company and member of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, shared how his own family’s legacy shaped him and the legacy he hopes to leave as the Freedom Breakfast keynote speaker.

As a child, Smith was raised to believe he could do and be anything, and that belief has been part of his family’s legacy for generations. His great-great-grandmother was born a slave but learned to read and write later became one of the first female pastors at their AME church.

“Her dream was for her children’s children to do great things, to see the world, to impact the world,” he said. “I thank God that I had parents who spoke life to me. So, the dream for me was to do something great.”

Keynote speaker T. Dallas Smith, founder and CEO of T. Dallas Smith & Company, gives his address at the 2024 Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Breakfast. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Smith also expressed the value of connecting with people. Those connections lead to more connections, and it’s important to start the journey. Smith said, however, that it’s just as important not to be fearful and to give people the benefit of the doubt.

In fact, it was being unafraid and people giving him the benefit of the doubt that started his career. Smith realized giving those same opportunities to other people was his calling, and he continues to pay it forward to those in his business and life.

“I am reminded of people who said I couldn’t do this or that it wouldn’t work, but for God and the power of a dream. Keep dreaming,” he said.

“As we spend today reflecting on what would have been the 95th birthday of Dr. King and 20 years since we started this breakfast, let us continue to take intentional steps, making space for change,” said Alton Standifer, vice provost for inclusive excellence and chief of staff to the provost. “We can remember Dr. King’s words that no work is insignificant. Let our commitment to building a legacy for the future be a catalyst for positive change.”

Law school student Briana Hayes and undergraduate student Elisa Fontanillas applaud during the keynote address at the 2024 Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Breakfast. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

In addition to honoring the legacy of the late civil rights leader, the Freedom Breakfast also recognizes students, faculty, staff and local community members dedicated to contributing to race relations, justice and human rights with the President’s Fulfilling the Dream Award.

This year’s recipients are:

  • Caleb Snead, who is pursuing both a bachelor’s degree in health promotion and a Master of Public Health through the Double Dawgs program;
  • Brian Leffler, senior lecturer in American Sign Language in the Mary Frances Early College of Education; and
  • Terris Thomas, director of neighborhood engagement for Family Connection-Communities in Schools.

The Dawn D. Bennett Alexander Inclusive Community Award was also presented to Andrea Dennis, associate dean for faculty development and John Byrd Martin Chair of Law in the School of Law.

“Our award winners have demonstrated astonishing commitment to the Athens-Clarke County community, the state of Georgia and the University of Georgia through their civic engagement by utilizing King’s philosophy to resolve conflict and foster good will,” said Rod Guajardo, assistant to the president.

As part of the event, Emmanuel Thompson, a student at Clarke Central High School, performed “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and “What a Wonderful World.”

Additionally, students from the Clarke County School District shared some of their writing and artwork celebrating King’s legacy around the theme, “Dreams of Peace and Harmony.”