President Bell delivers keynote address during King Day tribute event
SALISBURY, Md. – (Jan. 22, 2013) – Dr. Juliette B. Bell, in her first major public address since becoming UMES’ president 6½ months ago, called on celebrants of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday to draw inspiration from “the power of a dream.”
That was the overarching theme of Bell’s keynote address Monday to a crowd of more than 800 attending the 28th annual Tri-County Organizations’ Coalition tribute to the late civil rights leader.
Bell invoked memories from her childhood in Alabama in the 1950s and 1960s – where some of the civil rights movement’s most bitter confrontations took place – as she reflected on historic strides toward equality and justice King inspired the nation to embrace.
“When we went to town on Saturdays,” Bell said., “we had to travel about 15 miles by car.”
“We could not use the facilities or get food or drink at most of the places we shopped,” she said. “This was in the early sixties, when segregation in Alabama and indeed throughout the south was the norm.”
Bell recalled King’s yearning that someday black and white children in Alabama “will be able to join hands … as sisters and brothers.” In many ways, he was describing Bell and her five siblings, who grew up on an Alpine, Ala. farm where she described working in the hot sun “chopping and picking cotton.”
Fast forward to this past fall, when Bell, just a few months into her presidency at UMES, returned triumphantly to her alma mater, Talladega (Ala.) College, to deliver the 2012 Founders’ Day address.
“Who would have dreamed that … I would be presented the key to the city – a city where I used to not even be able to use a public restroom -- by the mayor of Talladega,” Bell said. “The Power of a Dream.”
The “then and now” imagery prompted reflective nods, a murmur of “Amens” and polite applause.
“It was the dreams of people like my father,” Bell said, “who worked and sacrificed his whole life so that I would have the opportunity for a better life.”
“It was the dreams of people like Dr. King, who dared to speak out about the injustices in the world, to articulate his vision for the future, and to die for what he believed in. Because of his dream, people like me, and I dare say, President Barack Obama, are living a life that is beyond our wildest dreams,” she said.
Monday night’s event, organizers noted, attracted a near sell-out gathering even though it competed for attention with President Obama’s second inauguration and in spite of a flu epidemic that has surfaced across the country over the past several weeks.
In addition to Bell’s keynote address, the UMES Concert Choir provided the entertainment, including an inspiring rendition of “Ev’ry Time I Feel The Spirit.”
Banquet organizers also remembered one of their own, the late Dr. H. DeWayne Whittington of Marion Station. When Whittington died this past November, among his many activities in retirement was serving on UMES’ Board of Visitors, which he joined when it was formed in 1997.
Bill Robinson, director, UMES Office of Public Relations, (410) 621-2355. / Photos by Joey Gardner.