By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon
Once again, the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was celebrated in Midwest City.
The community hosted the 25th annual MLK Prayer Breakfast June 20 at the Reed Conference Center. The program included breakfast, music, speakers, and recognitions in honor of the civil rights leader.
It was the first time in more than two years that the event has been held in person.
The prayer breakfast is usually held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and is the first of several events in the metro honoring Dr. King.
Midwest City canceled the prayer breakfast in 2021 due to the pandemic. The program was instead presented as a radio broadcast. This year’s event was also postponed due to a rise in COVID-19 cases and rescheduled for June 20, to coincide with Juneteenth Day.
Mautra Staley Jones, president of Oklahoma City Community College, was one of the keynote speakers. Jones is the first Black woman to lead the institution, and first to lead any higher education institution in Oklahoma that is not a Historically Black College or University.
Jones spoke about her personal journey of growing up in poverty and using education as gateway to a better life. She was the first in her family to go to college and credited her grandmother for teaching her morals and values and providing support throughout her academic and professional career.
“She wanted me to dream big. She was a saving grace for me and my siblings and stepped in and saved us from the system we were about to enter. And she taught me the value of education and of faith,” Jones said.
Jones said she had opportunities to succeed because of the work done by others.
“I stand here today on the shoulder of many giants, those in family, those who paid the ultimate price, and those who had resilience to never give up despite the many, many obstacles,” she said.
Jones promises to continue that progress by providing opportunities for others through education, which she calls the “great equalizer.” She believes community colleges provide a valuable tool for students after high school and those returning years later.
“Your background does not define your destiny,” she said.
Judge David Lewis, Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, was also a keynote speaker and talked about King’s sacrifice and his legacy.
Lewis pointed to all that King sacrificed and asked the question ‘why would you do that?’ He answered his own question by pointing to King’s yearning for equality.
“He did it because he had a burning desire for righteousness and he thought the time is now,” Lewis said.
King’s legacy lives on today through two monumental pieces of legislation – the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Voting Rights Act abolished literacy tests and poll taxes designed to disenfranchise African American voters, while the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on basis on race, color, religion, sex, and nation of origin.
Lewis, who was a young child when King was assassinated in 1968, said it’s hard to fathom the challenges that King and others faced. He said everyone must honor those sacrifices today.
“The least I could do is take the time to vote,” Lewis said.
The MLK Prayer Breakfast also included the presentation of the prestigious Clara Luper Award as well as the Thomas Michael Jahn Scholarship.
The Clara Luper Award was presented posthumously to former Midwest City Police Chief Thomas Michael Jahn who started the Midwest City MLK Prayer Breakfast 25 years ago. He served as police chief from March 1996 until June 1999 when he moved to Sunrise, Florida.
Current Police Chief Sid Porter accepted the award on Thomas’ behalf and emphasized that the program is a team effort.
“I am humbled to accept this award because I know how many people have worked so hard for 25 years,” Porter said. “If he was here right now, he would say, ‘this is not about one person, this is about everybody.’”
Ediyah Adams, a recent Carl Albert High School graduate, received the $1,000 scholarship. Adams was the school’s first African American drum major and graduated with a 3.6 GPA. She plans to attend Oklahoma State University.
Event organizers also incorporated the Juneteenth holiday as part of the event. It is the second year that the day, which commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States, has been recognized as a federal holiday.
Kathleen Watkins and Alan Washington with Spiritually Bold Incorporated, a theater group in Oklahoma City, presented a rendition of a play called “Joy and Pain, a Celebration of Juneteenth.” Their performance highlighted the joys and pain endured by African Americans throughout history.
The event included music from Ckari Dawson with East 6th Street Christian Church. Midwest City Mayor Matt Dukes, Anthony Douglas, chairman of the MLK Prayer Breakfast Committee, and the “Chucks and Pearls Girls” also spoke during the event.