More than 600 people gathered in the Jennie T. Anderson Theatre on Monday morning, with another large crowd in the gymnasium next door, where the program was broadcast live.
Another year with a packed house had Cobb NAACP President Deane Bonner beaming. She said the free event was the place to be in metro Atlanta on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Mayor Steve Tumlin said it warmed his heart to see more than 20 entertainers with a shared theme of equality, fellowship and love.
“I think it brings us together,” Tumlin said.
Other community leaders and elected officials at Monday’s event included Cobb Chairman Tim Lee and Lockheed Martin Vice President and Marietta site general manager Shan Cooper.
Also highlighted was Councilman Ollie Clemons, the first black person elected to office in Austell.
Clemons told the audience he never thought he would be part of Cobb’s history.
“I never could have dreamed it, but Dr. King did,” Clemons said.
First time guests
Before the celebration began, Cennie Haskell of Austell said she brought her daughter Amber, 17, to the Cobb event forthe first time.
Cennie Haskell said she came to the program on Monday to be reminded of King. Cennie Haskell said memories from childhood still linger about the marches King led and even the day he was assassinated.
This year’s event was one of Cennie Haskell’s last chances to attend the celebration with her teenage daughter, she said.
Cennie Haskell said she hoped going together on Monday would encourage Amber to come back on her own as an adult.
On Monday morning, Amber Haskell said she was anxious to know more about King.
“Anything I didn’t know before, I would love to learn it here,” Amber Haskell said.
Remembering the struggle
Another woman came to the Cobb celebration for the first time to support her son, Jared, who performed a step routine with Young Voices United, a performing arts school in Marietta.
Valerie Benain said many children do not know enough in-depth history about King, “the real man, the family.”
In January 1956, Benain was living with her brother in Montgomery, Ala., while she studied accounting in college.
It was the month when King’s home was bombed just a block away, Benain said.
Benain, who now lives in east Cobb, said the struggle of black Americans to gain rights was a part of everyday life when she was growing up.
In his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, King said, “With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
She said Martin Luther King Jr. Day is about remembering a man who was “prepared to go all the way … to die for the fight and what he stood for.”
The commemorative day, Benain said, is also about focusing on being nonviolent. “Sometimes it appears like things are a little worse,” Benain said.
The future of the dream
The theme for the Cobb celebration this year was “His Dream: Hope for the Future.”
The hope was seen as many young performers took to the stage Monday, including Asantai Thorton, an 11 year-old girl who sang with a seasoned voice.
Thorton brought the audience to its feet singing about troubled times, hope and ensuring “no one will be left behind.”
As Bonner took the stage midway through the program, she said the community needs to empower youth to become leaders.
And to the youth in the audience, Bonner said, “You need to be serious about what you want to do in life.”
This year’s Living the Dream awards presented on Monday carried on the message of reaching out to the youth of Cobb.
Jeriene Grimes, a recent addition to the Marietta Board of Education who has served as vice president of the local chapter, gave one of the honors to Marietta City Schools Superintendent Emily Lembeck.
Grimes recognized Lembeck for being the first woman in that Marietta city position. And, on a personal note, Grimes said Lembeck taught two of her children when they were in second grade.The honor brought Lembeck to tears, as she said with a soft voice, “I am beyond surprised … I think I am being recognized just for doing my job.”
The second recipient of the Living the Dream award was Willie Davis, a photographer and retiree from Lockheed Martin Corp.
For more than 25 years, Davis has run a prison ministry with the Volunteer Metro Transitional Center.