(Crystal A. Proxmire, Jan. 17, 2017)
Royal Oak Township, MI – The Royal Oak Township Recreation Center was filled with music and words of inspiration on Monday as residents gathered for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration.
“Dr. King left a legacy. He had a dream. But it’s up to all of us to see that dream play out,” said Royal Oak Township Supervisor Donna Squalls.
Dwayne Jones, Athletic Director for the Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL), grew up in Royal Oak Township. He said that Dr. King did not just leave behind a legacy of civil rights, but “he also left behind a legacy of civil responsibility.” He called upon community members to get involved in the lives of kids in their neighborhood. “There’s many opportunities in their schools, in your church, on your block,” Jones said. “We need omitted adults to get involved with these kids… Just sharing your stories with these kids can help make a road map for these kids.
“There are those of us who didn’t have fathers at home. [We know] how our baseball coaches, how our pastors, took these knucklehead kids and helped set them on the right path. These kids are sometimes really thirsty and want to absorb our knowledge.”
Jones talked about how young people may come across as distant or disrespectful. “Get past that façade and get involved in these kids’ lives. You may see someone with their pants hanging down, who doesn’t do anything, but I see a doctor, or a lawyer. I see a cure for cancer…Let them know what challenges we went through so we can guide them,” he said.
The annual event featured musical performances and a dance number by local students. There was also the re-telling of Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
And the celebration included the presentation of awards to residents who help make the community a strong one.
Township Supervisor Donna Squalls was honored with a Community Service Award. Squalls has been Supervisor for four years, guiding the township through a consent agreement with the State of Michigan to help it avoid being placed under Emergency Financial Management. She was also on the township board for eight years, a business owner for 50 years and the founder of Royal Sisters, a mentoring program for girls “giving them hope and preparing them for life.”
Squalls gave praise in her acceptance remarks, stating “God orders our steps and we just need to be obedient. If you try to not be obedient, God will chase you down.” She also thanked other people, including Cloey Rainey who was an intern that worked with Squalls from 9th to 12th grade, who then went to Central Michigan University, and then returned to Royal Oak Township to be a volunteer with the Royal Sisters program. She also thanked her sister who came and taught etiquette to the young ladies.
Sandra Boyd of the Greater Middle Missionary Baptist Church was presented with the Fanny Adams Award for service. Among the many ways she volunteers, Boyd helps with computer lab, after school tutoring, summer day camp, field trips, back to school rallies and holiday themed activities for youth. She works at Easter Seals, helping to assist children with special needs to be part of the community. “I’m humbled today,” Boyd said. “I thank God for you. The only thing I need is to be fulfilled with [helping] children… We are here because we are planting a seed for the future, and that future is our children.”
The final Community Service Award was given to Thomas Strong, who is a member of The Chosen Men of Strength, a group that encourages men to be good role models. The group mentors young men as well as does community service projects like traveling to Galveston to help hurricane victims and to New Orleans to help flood victims. His nickname is “T-Strong,” because of the strength of his character and his willingness to help others.
The event brought the community together with a message of unity and community involvement. A Ferndale High School Graduate gave the keynote address, sharing a story about a man who instructed his son to break a bundle of sticks in half. The son tried to snap the sticks over his knee but they would not bend or break. The father then took the bundle, untied it, and began snapping the sticks one by one. “United we are strong,” he said.
The speaker, who is a behavior specialist with Wyandotte Public Schools, talked about the harsh drug laws and the statistics that show black men are incarcerated more often than white men although the rate of use is the same. He talked about the disparity in spending for community college versus money spent on the prison system. And he called for black people to come together in supporting each other’s businesses, in keeping up neighborhoods and being peaceful with each other.
He compared the challenges of the black community to those of the Jewish community. “You never hear Jews say Jewish Lives Matter,” he said, noting that they do not rally behind a slogan but behind action. “They keep their money in their community. They kept up their properties. They support each other. We don’t need to keep saying Black Lives Matter, when black lives don’t matter to black people,” he said. “We follow Kanye West but know little about Dr. Cornel West. You have no idea where you’re going if you have no idea where you came from.”
Participants sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to close out the celebration before sharing in a community meal complete with birthday cake in honor of the civil rights leader.
Check out oc115 coverage of the MLK Day celebration in Royal Oak Township from 2015 at https://oaklandcounty115.com/2015/01/20/keeping-with-kings-dream-ro-twp-asks-whats-going-on-video/.