Descendant of Frederick Douglass keynotes MLK BreakfastBy Yasmine Regester, Peacemaker Staff Writer / January 19, 2024
The 2024 City of Greensboro Human Rights Commission’s MLK Breakfast was held January 15 at the Sheraton Greensboro/Koury Convention Center. The theme was ‘Inspired to Dream’ and featured keynote speaker Kenneth B. Morris Jr., co-founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Freedom Initiatives organization.
Morris descends from a notable lineage: he is the great-great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass and the great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington. His closest connection was a great aunt who had first-person stories of Douglass and Washington she would tell him growing up.
“So, in a sense, even with all of those greats, I stand one person away from history, and I stand one person away from slavery,” he said, adding that it’s important to remember that many people are not that far removed from their ancestors who were slaves.
“I hope that when we talk about our history – knowing that not everyone has a Douglass or King in their family – but each and every one of us has descended from someone who sacrificed for you,” he said.
Morris called Douglass, “the father of the Civil Rights Movement” because of his legacy as an abolitionist and orator, who dedicated his life to social reform and African American civil rights long before King started his mission.
“This country is the product of the slave. But it’s also the product of the abolition of slavery. And from Frederick Douglass we learned that we have a right to be free. And from Booker T. Washington, we learned how to make our way in the world as free citizens. And from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we’ve learned as free citizens that we have the same rights as all citizens,” said Morris.
He went on to say, “Dr. King’s revolutionary vision and radical nonviolent approach to solving social ills is as relevant today as it was during the Civil Rights Movement. Frederick Douglass’ words are as relevant, unfortunately, today as they were all those years ago.”
Morris also shared several anecdotes about his childhood and spending summers at Douglass’ home in Chesapeake, located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, on a beachfront property named Highland Beach, and the long-lasting impact that Douglass’ legacy left on him. One thing in particular, regularly gazing at a pair of shoes that his great-great-great grandfather wore.
“I could never fit those shoes. Those shoes are too big for anyone. Dr. King’s shoes are too big for any of us. But I realized that I could take the shoes I got, and you all can take the shoes you got, and we can lead the way to a brighter future.”
Morris noted that although he was highlighting these great men, not to forget that greatness lives in all of us.
“History lives in each of us. But the future depends on how you carry that history forward,” he said.
This year’s breakfast also featured recognition of the second class of Everyday Champions of Human Rights Award Winners. Members of the HRC’s MLK Breakfast Committee honored three everyday champions for their substantial contributions to further King’s vision or to champion civil rights, civil liberties, and/or human rights in Greensboro.
This year’s honorees included Clarence Henderson, national spokesman for the Frederick Douglass Foundation and President of the organization’s North Carolina chapter; Erin “Summer” Hunter, an English teacher, curriculum facilitator, and mentor at Page High School where she leads a group of 40 male Black students in the school’s Team Voyage program; and Dr. Michelle Linster, former administrator and professor at Bennett College and a member of the board of directors for Black Child Development.
Also recognized at the breakfast were the five Dudley High School seniors who won the Morningside Awards. The Morningside Award is given annually to five graduates of James B. Dudley High School in memory of Cesar Cauce, Dr. Michael Nathan, William Evan Sampson, Sandra Neely Smith, and Dr. James Waller, who tragically lost their lives in the Greensboro Massacre of 1979. The awards commemorate the lives of those lost, who left a legacy of standing for justice and equality. The 2023 award winners are: Nylen Brewington-Al-Ahmar, Makayla Garner, Leotis McNeill, III, Jordan Miller and Anthony Taylor. Each winner received a $1,979 award.
In between awards and keynote speakers, attendees were also treated to choral performances by the J.B. Dudley Choir and the Page High School Elite Choir, as well as a spoken word performance by the morning’s MC, Josephus Thompson, III and The Poetry Project.