Stronger together, educated and equal

Bob Wortham, J.D. Roberts, Norris Roberts, Terrence Holmes & Get Williams-Wright

While some offices, businesses and schools throughout the community closed their doors in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 16, many Southeast Texans still started the day early, attending events aimed at honoring the legacy of the late civil rights leader.

Beaumont kicked off MLK Day with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. at the Douglas Memorial CME Church. A tradition for more than a decade, clergy, laypersons, elected officials, children and seniors fellowshipped over coffee and juice, toast, eggs and grits before retiring to the welcoming pews of the host church for inspirational words centered on Dr. King’s message of non-violent pursuit of equality for all.

Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens was the featured guest speaker. On the heels of a historic election that resulted in Stephens becoming the first black female ever voted into the position in Texas, she reiterated her stance that the community that voted for her was actually the instrument shattering misconceptions that the position could only be occupied by white males.

“I didn’t do this alone,” she said. “This community made history.”

Although being “first” comes with “a lot more burden, responsibility than I ever dreamed of,” she said, it also comes with a reward in knowing that she is following in the path set out by Dr. King to be the best at whatever you’ve been called to do.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry,” King advised. “He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

Stephens said that MLK Day celebrations typically highlight the civil rights movement and death of leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but there was so much more to the man than snippets of his writings and speeches recited year after year. Economic justice supporter, anti-war champion, capitalism critic, voter registrar, interracial coalition builder — King was much more than a dreamer.

“We do a disservice to the man,” Stephens said, to treat him as nothing more than a date on a calendar. “Let us not reduce him to a holiday.”

Jefferson County judges Baylor Wortham, Gerald Eddins, Randy Shelton, Raquel West, Terrence Holmes and Clint Woods were joined by Port Commissioner Lee Smith, County Commissioner Bo Alfred, County Clerk Jamie Smith, Earl White, Vernon Durden, Paul Jones, District Attorney Bob Wortham and Regina Rogers with the “I Have a Dream” youth program, as well as others who made the early morning engagement.

Most of the guests at the Beaumont breakfast then traveled to Port Arthur, where the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Support Group hosts an annual brunch in celebration of the holiday.

In Port Arthur, several were honored for their service to the community, including Man and Woman of the Year Lawrence Ingram and Beverly King; Spirit Award recipient Port Arthur Police Department Detective Michael Hebert; Entertainment honorees Shontel Cosby and Whitney Valcin; honored guests Zulema Escobedo, Dr. J. Wesley Ramsey, the Rev. J.D. Roberts, and Glenda Trainer; Tribute recipient Inika McPherson; and In Memory of Dr. Chester Levy Jr., Opal Ford, Phyllis Jean Matthews-Lee, Mamie Thomas and Rena Wesley. A special honor was also given to Sheriff Stephens, who again took the opportunity to tell an audience that striving to be the best at what you do is the best way to honor King’s legacy.

“While I’m humbled, I’m thankful,” Stephens said of the second honor of the day.

“When I decided to run,” she said, it wasn’t to be famous – or to be a first. “I just wanted to be a good cop, to make a difference.


“I intend for it to matter that I’m here.”