On January 20th, Tennessee State University’s Gentry Complex held the commemorative convocation in celebration of what would’ve been Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s 85th birthday, hosted by the International Ministers’ Fellowship (IMF). The community gathered at Jefferson St Baptist Church where they marched down Jefferson Street en route to the Gentry Complex. The crowd of marchers arrived at the Gentry for the program where there were two speakers, Minister Brandon Smithson and Professor Gloria Haugabook McKissack, who gave riveting speeches centered around Dr. MLK’s non-violent approach to unity and equivalent justice.
The theme for this year’s celebration, “Passing the Torch: Accepting the Charge” was demonstrated as Professor McKissack delivered her speech of the same subject. She raised a torch as she made a charge to all who are willing to go to the next level to make a better life for those who will come after. “It is not enough that a black president was elected,” she said. “We must carry the torch to do more.”
McKissack produced and directed two documentary films, “The Nashville Freedom Riders: Would You Get on the Bus?” and The Nashville Sit-Ins Story.”
Presently, she is researching two books and writing an historical novel.
Brandon Johnson followed with a brief speech of the same title also. He asked those that would “accept the charge to “stand if you are willing to accept the torch passed on in the 21st century to illuminate.” Johnson said there are four things that would be necessary to accept the charge: sacred devotion; devotion to God; devotion to self and specific decisions.
Professor McKissack is a native of Detroit, Michigan where she also studied speech and drama at the Detroit Conservatory of Music and Tony Lewis Dance School before matriculating to Tennessee State University in 1961. It was at TSU where she received a B.S. and M.S. degrees in American History and African American History.
She actively participated in sit-ins, risking her educational opportunities.
She became an educator and played an important role in planning the desegregation of Nashville public schools, designed curriculum and workshops for Social Studies teacher on black studies. From that she received many awards and honors.
Brandon J. Smithson is a promising preacher, entrepreneur, mentor and speaker from Nashville Tennessee. He is the only son to his parents with five sisters. He is a graduate with honors from East Literature Magnet School (May 2010) and is currently matriculating to the American Baptist College where he hopes to attain a Bachelor of Arts in Bible and Theology with a concentration in pastoral Studies by 2015. Affectionately called “Minister B,” Smithson is a young man with many family, friends, and supporters who admire and love him.
Minister B is currently serving as a minister at Greater Grace Temple Community Church under the leadership of Pastor Breonus M. Mitchell, Sr.
Following the dual speeches, an essay recitation was done by Tierra Horton on the case of Trayvon Martin and spoken word was performed by Alexis Woodard, followed by a musical selection from Young Soldiers of God (YSOG).
Other participants on the program included the Boy Scout Troop#0621 from Lake Providence Missionary Baptist Church, Ira Rankin and the Pearl-Cohn Gospel Choir, Rev. Brian Fesler from the Church of Scientology, Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover, president of TSU, Atty. Kelvin Jones, chair of the March and Convocation planning committee, Trinity Fields and Keesha Rainey.
Following the remarks and benediction from the Rev. Dr. Judy D. Cummings, pastor of New Covenant Christian Church DOC and current president of IMF, everyone joined hands and sang “We Shall Overcome.”