WINNSBORO — “Martin Luther King Jr. believed in justice, not just for African Americans, but for all races. We cannot rest on our laurels. We have got to live the dream, be on guard and keep the dream going as he would have wanted us to do,” legendary S.C. State Football Coach Emeritus Willie Jeffries said Saturday as keynote speaker at the inaugural Witnessing the Dream Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Breakfast. Held at Fairfield Central High School, the $25 per plate event was both a tribute to King and a fundraiser for the FCHS athletics department. Though minister Rick Gibson used the opening prayer to addressed the cost and the wisdom of combining events in that fashion, first year athletics director Terrell Roach, a Fairfield County native and graduate of S.C. State defended the decision to do the fundraiser and encouraged those in attendance to invite one more person next year.
“The price of ignorance is worse than what money (people might) have held onto in (their) pockets,” Roach said. Roach thanked the community for coming together in support of this cause and joined his former coach Jeffries in calling people to do service on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
“I feel I have a duty to Coach Jeffries to always be a respectable man out in the community,” Roach said. “And I believe life’s most persistent question is what are you doing for others?”
He thanked many people for their support including Gervonder Brown, Coach Stevens, Betty Milton, area businesses, area churches and school administrators. Roach awarded the first Dream Keeper’s Honoree awards that go to the student and the community members who by their actions show they are people working daily to keep King’s dream alive. Students Nya PreJean, Lamar Richards, Raven Tucker, Carlton Johnson and Chanel Burns did readings as tribute to the Dreamer’s Legacy and video clips were shown to highlight the King years and spotlight Coach Jeffries’ career and contribution to civil rights.
Guest speakers included Ridgeway Mayor Charlene Herring who used examples such as Beethoven, a blind man who climbed Mount Everest, and Martin Luther King Jr. to show that determination, never the less, can lead to achievement even when one faces adversity from systemic racism. Sonya Kennedy spoke on what King would think if he were alive today. “Would (King),” she asked, “think we are working hard enough to accomplish his goals?”
Quoting both his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and “I Have a Dream” speech, she reminded those present how justice belongs to all of us regardless of race or gender. Kennedy relayed some lesser known facts about King such King skipping grades 9 and 12, enrolling in Morehouse College at age 15. There are some 700 streets named for him in the United States. His wedding night was spent in a black owned funeral home because he could not stay at a hotel for whites. Studies have shown, according to Kennedy, that when he died at age 39, he had the heart of a sixty year old, likely due to stress.
Another speaker mentioned statistics and King, meteorologist and FCHS alum, Daniel Bonds. Bonds noted how King was arrested 30 times and asked what causes his audience valued so deeply that they would put themselves through such an ordeal. He quoted King and challenged the audience to pursue a life of giving and service. Other speakers included local storyteller Frances O’Neal and FCHS head football coach Demetrius Davis.
“We were given the power to love, plan, create and dream, (but I believe) the greatest power God gave us is the power to choose,” Coach Jeffries said.
He called on those present to model their lives after the three F’s he asked of his players: faith, family and future—in that order. Mixing in his noted humor throughout, Jeffries used a few jokes that protege Demetrius Davis has used around Fairfield in the past. Roach called upon his former coach and mentor to speak in large part because Jefferies broke the color barrier in Division I football. In 1979 he took over as head coach of Wichita State. With an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and a master’s in guidance and counseling, Jeffries continues at S.C. State as coach emeritus, assisting Coach Buddy Pough to mold young men. Jeffries was listed as Jeff Jeffries in the Wichita State Media guide, presumably to sound less black than had they used the name Willie.
“Success has no ZIP code. It doesn’t matter what side of the tracks you are on. You can have success if you work hard,” he said. And Jeffries concluded by addressing the Fairfield community, asking if people would “be builders (of the area) or be wreckers who will roam the town content with the labor of tearing it down.”