Birmingham, Ala., councilman John R. Hilliard was the guest speaker at the seventh annual Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc. celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Isle of Capri hotel in Lula on Saturday night.
Hilliard, who was also a member of the Alabama state legislature for 10 years, spoke about the theme of the event “Keeping the Dream Alive” and his friend, Artie Armstrong, a lobbyist in Jackson, introduced him.
Hilliard began talking about young people getting involved and starting early. He made the comparison of Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin and Clarksdale mayor Chuck Espy.
“I like to see young people involved and getting started early on,” Hilliard said.
He also mentioned hiring his chief of staff, Tevin Jones, whom he mentored at age 19, when Jones turned 24.
Hilliard said Armstrong told him about a mortgage lending business, which led him to starting his own mortgage company.
Hilliard’s brother, Earl, first served in the state legislature and then the United States house.
Earl became friends with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson.
After 10 years, Earl lost his first election ever and returned to Birmingham. An 18-wheeler hit him, he was induced in a coma and not expected to survive.
Earl did survive, but was not seeing anyone for a time.
Thompson drove from Jackson to Alabama and insisted on seeing Earl.
“He opened the door and walked in and sat down behind the congressman,” Hilliard said.
Hilliard told stories about how he got to where he is today, but it all started with his single mother. When he was struggling in the public school system and his mother was working extremely hard, his grandparents stepped in and adopted him.
Dr. Mary Frances Dear-Moton, CEO of Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc., spoke about her experiences and the importance of keeping the dream alive.
Dear-Moton said when she was younger, a lot of people pushed her and she specifically recalled working at Coahoma Opportunities Inc. under former executive director Troy Catchings.
Dear-Moton also paid tribute to her mother, Rachel Dear, whose sign is on Fourth Street with civil rights leader Aaron E. Henry behind her on the phone.
“That’s because every time something happened in Clarksdale, he would call her to march,” Dear-Moton said. “My mother marched so we could have black police officers. She marched to everything Dr. Henry said.”
Henry and Dear were cousins.
Dear-Moton announced the annual Martin Luther King Day parade will be at noon on Saturday, Feb. 16 starting at Myrtle Hall III Elementary School near State Street. The Myrtle Hall Library for Negroes will be built in that location in the near future.