Sunday, January 18, 2009

Meeting the 45th U.S. President (???)

The King Center knows how to celebrate, and last evening at the downtown Atlanta Hyatt, the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. included many of the traditional birthday bash elements mixed with a look at history, present and future for the Civil Rights Movement.

The guests of honor included "Salute to Greatness" 2009 award recipients Secretary of State Designate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chick-fil-A Founder S. Truett Cathy (the company's COO, Dan Cathy accepted the award in his father's absence due to illness), as well as Ambassador Andrew Young, a 1984 Salute to Greatness honoree and Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) chairman.

There were several moments from the event I will always remember. Top of the list is hearing Clinton speak from a photo pit (in front of the front row) seat during her her acceptance remarks. Also, hearing Dr. King's nephew praise Clinton several times, including his endorsement she will make history as the first woman president (the nation's 45th commander in chief) following Obama (Sen. Clinton was visibly moved by this remark and the standing ovation received in the moment).

Getting a moment to pose for a photo with Mrs. Clinton was also remarkable -- I appreciate her staff, the Secretary, and of course The King Center's communications team for making that possible (Sidebar: Was trying to get that photo opp in place since first meeting Mrs. Clinton on Oct. 30, 1992, a few nights before Bill Clinton's election to his first term -- she was at my school, Minnesota State University - Mankato, and my camera failed on that photo attempt 16 years and three months ago).

And still another takeaway from the experience was again being afforded the opportunity to hear Ambassador Young share stories -- he is one of the most remarkable public speakers and storytellers and, in my book, a national treasure. (Another sidebar: Young used to speak to ACOG at staff meetings and volunteer training sessions, and even then I was in awe at how calm and fascinating his stories are masterfully woven into lessons for the ages).

Young introduced Clinton and spoke about how Native Americans once approached him about preparing for the future -- not only for the next generation, but for seven generations to follow -- and how from Young's view, the new secretary of state is the best and smartest choice for a thoughtful approach to the future.

Clinton's remarks, too, were inspiring, with a call to action in support of the new administration and to uphold the ideals instilled by Dr. King.

Dan Cathy performed an amazing trumpet solo of "The Star Spangled Banner" and he also gave an amazing (and touching) acceptance speech on behalf of his father. Like the "seventh generation" message shared by Young, the junior Cathy remarked that his father instilled in Chick-fil-A team members a need for the "Three C's" of competence, chemistry and character, and that "... children are the messengers to those we will not see."

It was a good night to be an Atlantan and an American.

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