Jerry Dove receives Walter Welsh Award

The Dr. Martin Luther King Roundtable Breakfast was held Monday for the community to gather and remember the legacy of King for a 26th year.

To complement this year’s theme, “Justice for All,” the keynote speaker was Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons Jr.. He was the first person of color elected sheriff of Richmond County and he also has roots in Brunswick County.

He began the address by recognizing how the venue, Trinity United Methodist Church, was fitting to the legacy of King.

“We often talk about his attributes as a civil rights fighter. We very seldom talk about his Godly attributes,” he said.

Clemmons recited several Bible verses about justice and freedom throughout his speech.

He compared the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration to Sunday mornings, explaining that people often neglect to carry the message they’ve heard through their lives after the service has ended.

“Let’s stop making Martin Luther King holiday a one-day event,” he said, urging attendees to stand up and speak out for what they believe in.

Clemmons said he thought about the theme, “Justice for All,” throughout the past year. He spoke of how people often recite the phrase during “The Pledge of Allegiance,” and asked whether it was merely an obligation and ritual, or if people listened attentively to the words.

He pointed out that justice relates to more than crimes; it could be thought of when one has an opportunity for a job, for housing, to vote, or to send their children to a safe school.

Clemmons said justice should create possibilities for everyone, even the disadvantaged.

“The phrase ‘for all’ is inclusive, not discriminatory,” he said.

He stated that justice is supposed to be blind, but he asked, “can she really see?”

Clemmons cited a Center for American Progress report that states a “lack of diversity among the nation’s judiciary is hindering fairness and the image of equality in the U.S. justice system.”

“Here is the concern and the argument that folks have. They say that ‘we are your constituents, but yet your faces don’t look like ours,’” Clemmons said. “‘How do you understand us and judge who we are if you’ve never been where we have been?’”

Clemmons referenced a Gallup poll that states 42% of Americans worry a “great deal” about race relations. It’s a record high in the 17-year trend.

“We need to get to the place where we can talk about those things that are uncomfortable,” Clemmons said. “We need to be able to look at each other in the face and talk about race relations and not have to apologize to each other for what happened in the past.”

Clemmons told the guests that to see what King and other martyrs stood for, they could look around the room at each other.

“Fifty years ago, this would not have happened,” he said.

The morning continued with a round table discussion with attendees breaking into groups to converse about topics such as love, unity, trust and optimism.

Near the conclusion of the event, former Southport Police Chief and Mayor Jerry Dove was presented with the 2020 Walter Welsh Award by the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee and Welsh’s daughter, Laurie Witmeyer.

This honor recognizes an individual who has promoted human relations in the area and put forth efforts to educate the community about racial and human tolerance, as Welsh did for years as a civil rights activist and minister in Southport before his passing.

“Jerry Dove has been a man of inclusion with a vision for all people of our city and the embodiment of justice and humanity,” Witmeyer said.

Dove was mayor for two terms, during which he supported the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee.

“His specialized training in criminal justice showed him that all people are affected by crime, poverty and denied access to justice,” stated Witmeyer.

Dove thanked the committee and attendees and said he would display the award in “a place of honor” in his home.

“The most important thing in life is our duties to God, to our family, and to our fellow man,” Dove said.

He added that he practiced the “Southport good neighbor policy.”

“It’s not in any of the ordinances. It’s not a state law. But Jesus himself said that was the greatest commandment of all: ‘To love thy neighbor as thyself.’ And if we had that, we would have no trouble at all, would we?” he said.