League of Women Voters of New Jersey member Winnefred Rowell-Bullard received the 2012 Community Award from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Committee of the Gloucester Township Public Schools. Congratulations to Winne on this well deserved honor. Her acceptance speech was incredibly moving and it is my pleasure to be able to share it with you (below).
It is with gratitude and appreciation that I say, “Thank You” to the members of The Gloucester Township Public Schools Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Committee. My heart is filled with, cherished appreciation, and unforgettable gratefulness because you have selected me to receive this prestigious honor.
Today, along with you, I, too, look back and reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr…
My reflection shows me when I was a college freshman attending Allen University, which is located in Columbia, South Carolina, Two days before going home for the Christmas holidays, I along with 20 other college students participated in a non-violent, sit-in demonstration at a segregated movie theater in downtown Columbia. After paying for our tickets, we took our seats downstairs in the White only section. Immediately, we were told to go up stairs and sit in the Colored only section. We refused to leave our seats to go and sit in the Colored section. Then, harshly, we were told we would be arrested and taken to jail, if we did not sit in the Colored section. WE REFUSED TO MOVE. In addition, the TICKET ATTENDANT CALLED THE LAW. DURING THAT DECADE, LAW MEANT POLICE. WE SAT IN THAT WHITE ONLY SECTION UNTIL THE LAW CAME to take us to jail, but instead of being taken to jail, we were finger printed and taken to the state penitentiary- the place for convicted criminals. We learned later that as soon as Dr. King received the word that twenty African American college students in Columbia, South Carolina had been taken to the State Penitentiary and locked up for refusing to sit up stairs in a segregated movie balcony in downtown Columbia, early the next morning, he traveled from Atlanta, Ga. to the State Penitentiary to have our finger prints exonerated and to set us free. From that remarkable visit, I never forgot Dr. King’s strong words, and I quote: “From this day forward, you will always be proud of yourselves, because you have taken a direct stand for social justice by demonstrating non-violently and peacefully against the social ills of inequality toward humankind. From this day forward, I want you to continue to take a stand and to advocate for social justice.”
After returning from dinner with Dr. King, we formed a big circle on campus, we asked Dr. King to stand in the middle of the circle, and then we sang together, loudly, WE SHALL OVERCOME. From that memorable day, and over the decades to follow, to this day, I have taken a stand for social justice and as a giver of knowledge, my goals as an educator and as an instructional and community leader have been to make a positive difference in the lives of my students and others. I remain active in many community service organizations such as Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., South Jersey Alumnae Chapter, The League of Women Voters of Camden County, and the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. Each of these organizations works to offer community services for the betterment of humankind.( and I say thank you to some of the members who have come today to show support and to give congratulations).
In closing, I will forever cherish meeting Dr. King, listening to his strong, everlasting words, and becoming an advocate for social justice. Dr. Kings’ visionary dreams of social justice remain strongly prevalent today. Thus, I will continue my work in the community for the cause of direct action for social justice. Again, I thank the Gloucester Township Public Schools Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Committee for honoring my call to be a community advocate in the name of service for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
– Winnefred Rowell-Bullard