ORANGE PARK – During the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast, Live The Dream Chief Executive Officer Michael Dobson reminded people not to get too comfortable.
Dobson was the guest speaker at the Monday morning event, solidifying a partnership with the Florida branch of One Church One Child Inc. where breakfast organizer Rev. Bill Randall sits on the board. Through the partnership, One Church One Child will receive some of the funds from the Live The Dream foundation’s MLK vanity license plate sales to benefit orphaned and abandoned children throughout the state.
As Dobson took the podium he began with some comments on the license plate and why it is important for people to buy it, not only to support King’s legacy, but also to help children who are in need.
“The tag helps fight poverty, and to alleviate illness and disease,” Dobson said, as guests finished their breakfast and sipped coffee, the audience of politicians and officials sat in their chairs listening.
“I’m not sure why a lot of you are here today, and I often wonder, ‘Are we here because we’re checking off a box to say that we were here?’” he asked the crowd. “What I ask you to do, if at all possible, is to think about that legacy of King.”
First, he told his story. Dobson explained that in 2002, when he first heard about the MLK license plate, he never thought it would get through the legislature, “that’s just never gonna’ happen,” he remembered saying. Being born in the segregated South, he never thought that lawmakers in Tallahassee would allow the tag to become a reality. He was surprised though, when they were receptive and supportive, including former governor Jeb Bush, who signed the bill into law. Dobson found out that above all, the legislature supports freedom, which was King’s ultimate goal: freedom for all people.
Dobson said he remembered sitting at home when he was young, watching black and white television and seeing images of King speaking cut together with those of African Americans fleeing riot cops and dogs. “A lot of African Americans were afraid,” he said. He remembered women talking about King and how they were worried somebody would kill him. He said that since that time, people have forgotten who they are and what they’re up against.
“Over time, people have become distracted, and that distraction has made us comfortable,” Dobson said. “We’re comfortable where King was trying to make us uncomfortable.”
He said that King wanted to remind people of who they are, but now people have become comfortable in their lives, no matter how unfortunate they may be. He said that people have become comfortable in poverty, sitting in their living room watching shows about someone else’s wealth and feeling comfortable.
“I’m not sure how we can be comfortable when 70 percent of the prison population is African-American,” he said.
Dobson told the crowd to fight for things that matter, remembering a time when a group fought to get a street renamed to Martin Luther King Boulevard in Tampa, but Dobson asked whether that fight helped to improve the African-American community, and if that was what King would’ve wanted.
Following Dobson’s speech, Randall took the microphone to present the 2018 MLK Day-N-Clay scholarship, and to introduce Clay County Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless who announced the names of every African-American political candidate or elected official to ever come from Clay County.
Among those names was that of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who was sentenced to five years in prison after her recent conviction on 18 counts of fraud and tax violations. Brown is scheduled to begin her federal prison sentence on Jan. 29.
Following a group photo of all the candidates and elected officials, Brown was given the opportunity to speak to the audience though she had not been included in the scheduled programming.
During her speech, she strayed from any specific mention of her conviction, instead focusing her message on doing “the best I could,” as well as a positive speech about the dash between your birth date and death date as representing what you did in your life. However, Brown then introduced a Jacksonville attorney who spoke about her case and the potential for an appeal due to the fact that a juror was removed from her trial in federal court for expressing views provided to him by the “holy spirit,” with the judge citing that as outside influence. “Dr. King would’ve never stood by silent,” the lawyer said.
During the off-book presentation by Brown and her attorney, a handful of Clay County officials walked out, including Sheriff Darryl Daniels, who spoke to a local news crew outside and posted a video of the interview to the Clay County Sheriff Office Facebook page.
Daniels said the situation made him feel awkward to be photographed as the Sheriff of Clay County with a convicted felon.
“In this setting where we’re celebrating, or speaking to the life work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Daniels said. “It may not have been the most appropriate setting to bring someone with some cloudiness associated with her name into that setting.”
Following Brown’s speech, Randall took the microphone to close out ceremonies and say that instead of five years in prison he would’ve sentenced her to life outside serving the people of her former area of governance through fundraising and volunteerism.