The Carroll County NAACP will hold its 15th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast on Saturday, Jan. 27, and the keynote speaker will be Kevin McLeod, executive director of Silver Oak Academy.
It’s not the first public speaking engagement for McLeod, but it is his first with the NAACP.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I just hope I will be able to do a good job.”
The breakfast will begin at 9 a.m. at Martin’s Westminster and tickets are $35 in advance, or $40 at the door.
The keynote speaker is selected by the NAACP each year as someone who can speak to “Dr. King’s dream, and the whole civil rights movement, what it means to them personally,” said Carroll County NAACP President Jean Lewis. “And where they see the whole civil rights movement going at this point.”
There are a lot of themes McLeod could pick from today’s society to address in his keynote, he said, but he plans to explore one that is close to his heart.
“That is just how the experiences we have in life and the attributes we sometimes see as weaknesses, how we turn them into strengths,” he said. “A lot of times people look at folks’ weaknesses and they look down on them. Persons have to understand, ‘Hey, you know, those weaknesses can be turned into strengths based on how well you get engaged and get comfortable with yourself.’ ”
As an educator, helping young people become comfortable with themselves and turning their weaknesses into strengths is part of McLeod’s day-to-day. Silver Oak Academy, located in Middleburg, is a private residential high school for at-risk young men, and McLeod said many of them have stories that provide a great example of turning weakness into strength.
“A lot these kids go through situations where substance abuse or drug dependency is a part of their family and their upbringing,” he said. “Most kids come out of a situation like that with a little bit of low self-confidence.”
But once they turn that around, and start writing their own story, McLeod said, “the story that some of these young men end up having — climbing over so many hurdles in their life, despite this situation, that situation, and then still come out on top — that’s the easiest one to look at and say, ‘Let me use these weaknesses that were really hindering my self-confidence.’ ”
“He is such a positive person,” Lewis said of McLeod. It was that positivity and his work with youth at Silver Oak Academy that made McLeod an obvious choice for this year’s keynote speaker, she said.
“We see those young men in the beginning,” Lewis said, “and how those young men, how they have changed and how they have evolved into productive people in the community. They are going to college, they have aspiration and he and his staff have shown them how they can grow.”
And some of those young men will also be attending the breakfast on Jan. 27.
“We’ve been going every year that they have it and we usually send three or four kids down to the breakfast,” McLeod said. “We kind of get heavily involved in Martin Luther King Day. It’s a big deal to us.”
And that student involvement is in many ways a large point of having the breakfast, according to Lewis.
“It’s the only way they can come to understand what Dr. King meant, because they are so many generations removed from what happened when we were marching up and down for the civil rights movement,” she said.
It’s also important, Lewis said, that students be recognized for their work in exemplifying the spirit of King’s dream, and noted that three students from Carroll County Public Schools will also be honored at the breakfast.
“It’s important for them to be known and to be recognized for the good work they are doing in their school, their community and how they are giving back,” she said. “In today’s society you hear so many negative things, that the kids aren’t doing anything, but they are.”
McLeod said he is looking forward not just to speaking but to having a dialogue and he hopes to have an interesting conversation around the idea of diversity.
“It’s not just about race and ethnicity, all that stuff,” he said. “Diversity encompasses a lot more than that.”