Eleven-year-old Caroline and Claudia, 7, beamed with pride and took the occasional selfie as their grandfather, state Sen. John Matthews, was presented an award from his brothers of the Delta Zeta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
The sisters were front and center commemorating and celebrating with hundreds of others the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 28th Annual MLK Unity Breakfast and awards program at Edisto Fork United Methodist Church on Jan. 14.
The event recognized community leaders who work to make Orangeburg County and the Palmetto State a better place.
“As a senator, we share our grandfather with lots of other people, but he always makes us feel special,” Caroline Matthews said. “Our grandfather goes to work every day trying to make a difference for so many children and adults, like Dr. King did.”
Sen. Matthews was one of three recipients of the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award for his work representing S.C. Senate Dist. 39, which includes Berkeley, Calhoun, Dorchester and Orangeburg counties.
“Our road ahead does not depend on what others do for us; it depends on what we are willing to do for ourselves,” Matthews said during his remarks.
With more than four decades as a state lawmaker, Matthews currently serves on the Senate Education, Finance, Banking and Insurance, Rules, Ethics and Invitations committees.
Dr. Barbara Williams-Jenkins, a historian and retired professor, also received the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award.
Williams-Jenkins' professional career evolved at South Carolina State University, beginning with her service as circulation/reference librarian up until her retirement as dean and professor of library and information services.
She was instrumental in establishing the S.C. State College Historical Collection and in the mid-1990s was a charter member of the S.C. African-American Heritage Commission, an affiliate of the S.C. Department of Archives and History.
Williams-Jenkins was instrumental in preserving the history of Orangeburg by getting historicial markers erected at important sites.
Participation in preserving African-American history in Orangeburg has been a treasure hunt, Williams-Jenkins said.
“You have a beautiful and rich history here in this community and you’ve had it since before the Civil War,” she said.
The honoree volunteers with various programs and organizations, including Trinity United Methodist Church, Williams Chapel AME Church, the NAACP (Life Member) and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
Lisa Jenkins, president of the Orangeburg Chapter of The Links Inc., accepted the community service award on behalf of the organization's members.
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Since Dec. 5, 1964, the chapter has worked diligently to contribute to making a difference in the community through diverse service projects, Jenkins said.
Members of The Links Inc. are currently working with the OCSD 5 Bootstraps Mentoring Program.
Rev. Ellis White Jr., pastor of Edisto Fork UMC, was the speaker for the breakfast. Referencing the passage "Hold on to Hope,” taken from Romans 8:24-25, White said in part, "(Donald) Trump appears to bring about the worst of our fears as a people because he will appoint the next Supreme Court justice and sway the majority of the court to eliminate progress of the Civil Rights struggle. These are uncertain times. Times like these we need hope.”
He added, “We serve a God that can trump Donald Trump.”
The University of South Carolina alum and member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity said, “(Martin Luther) King, despite his home being bombed, despite being stabbed, despite J. Edgar Hoover’s accusation, despite living under the threat of death every day, he still held on to hope.”
White said that he is “very much aware that when we look out on life these days, there is little to hang your hope on."
"So much of what Martin and our ancestors fought and died for is being repealed, appealed and repudiated,” the pastor said.
“Who would’ve thought that we would have to declare that Black Lives Matter (to) the people we pay to protect us, the police?" he said. "Yet our outrage for black-on-black crime should bring the same outrage. The sickening image of a disabled white man being brutalized by four young black people and then being posted on Facebook should garner our outrage."
White added, “People of faith, our hope for the best outcome is in the God who still reigns and rules supreme.”
Community leaders, legislators, students from local schools, corporate representatives and past award recipients attended the breakfast.
The common thread throughout the event -- whether offered in remarks by Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler and others or the prayer by Rev. Dr. Joe Singleton or the musical selections by Jarvis Jett -- was that all Americans are direct beneficiaries of Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy.
Claudia Matthews said her favorite part of the event wasn’t the food or music, "it was supporting my granddad."
“If people support and love one another more, the world would be better," she said.
Proceeds from the breakfast are used by the Delta Zeta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. to award scholarships to students at Claflin and South Carolina State universities and support the chapter's educational activities.