On Saturday, Jan. 27, the Carroll County Branch of the NAACP held its 15th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King breakfast at Martin’s Westminster.
About 145 people gathered for singing and presentations that celebrated King’s Jan. 15, 1929 birthday and to kick off Black History Month. The annual breakfast is set aside to honor the life and work of King, a civil rights leader who was active in promoting equal opportunities for African-Americans from 1955, when he led the Montgomery Alabama bus boycott, until he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
This year the master of ceremonies was Pam Zappardino, who along with Charles Collyer, are co-directors of The Ira and Mary Zepp Center for Nonviolence and Peace Education at McDaniel College.
The keynote speaker was Kevin McLeod, the executive director of Silver Oak Academy, a school in Carroll County with a rich history. The Academy took over the former Bowling Brook Preparatory School in 2009.
According to a Jan. 22 article in the Carroll County Times by Jon Kelvey, “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.’
“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. McLeod said many of them have stories that provide a great example of turning weakness into strength,” reported Kelvey.
McLeod was introduced by Collyer. McLeod graduated from Shepherd University in three years with a degree in psychology. He went on to earn a master’s in Public Administration from West Virginia University. “In 2009 he became the first executive director of Silver Oak Academy, a position he still holds. The focus at Silver Oak is on high school graduation, and on preparation for college enrollment, skilled employment, or enlistment in the armed forces,” said Collyer.
“At Silver Oak, under Kevin’s leadership,” said Collyer, “young men are treated with respect and held to a high standard of personal responsibility in a nonviolent, supportive environment. A visitor to the campus will see no locked gates or fences, no bars, no guns. Student-athletes greet you courteously. The staff exhibits a caring attitude toward these young men, and a good deal of patience with their typical teenage antics. …”
McLeod spoke for 35 minutes. He began by describing, “Little bits about Silver Oak Academy: We function like a small village that houses, educates, and takes care of young men from multiple states for many different reasons. We focus on our young men. … Developing their skills and abilities to withstand some of the ills of society: Neglect, drugs, violence, theft, family dysfunction, truancy, poverty, and abuse…”
“When preparing for today I went back and I listened to some speeches that Dr. King made,” explained McLeod. “King was an awesome speaker … [He used] strong symbolism and was always inspiring. The speech I want to reference today is the last speech Dr. King made the day before his assassination. …”
It was the speech King made on April 3, 1968, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop,” at Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, during the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike.
“The amazing thing about this speech and others Dr. King made is that they are very descriptive of our society today,” said McLeod. “Almost 50 years later his speeches could be used to lead us in the struggle today …
“These things mentioned by Dr King [in his speeches] were very relevant in 1968 and unfortunately are very relevant today in 2018. … They are simple things one by one but collectively they are devastating to a village. Let me list them: Anger, love, self-centeredness, fear, acceptance, lack of compassion, greed, insecurity, disrespect, jealousy, judging, ignorance, uncooperativeness, dishonesty, and stealing. …
“What I want to [leave you with] today is what do we do about these things? Examine your village … and if these things do exist in your village, or your family and you know it, then it is up to you to work on them.
“Everyone in this room right now belongs to a village, it starts with you, your family, relatives … and so on. … Think about that. … For those of you are saying what does this have to do with today, with Dr. King in 1968? And I will tell you everything.”