MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
As Americans pause to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., officials at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany recognized the occasion Tuesday at the Base Chapel.
The guest speaker was the Honorable Mary Jo Haywood, mayor of Camilla, Ga.
According to Jeffrey J. Wilson, operations manager, Marine Corps Systems Command, “Mayor Haywood was chosen because of her own struggles that she endured in life and the perspective she has gained as the result of overcoming them. She is a civil rights story in her own right, having been elected as the first black mayor in the city of Camilla’s 151-year history.”
Haywood, a native of Camilla, Ga., was born, raised and educated in the Camilla public school system and has her own personal story of dedication and determination.
The eldest of eight children born to sharecropper parents, she graduated from Camilla Consolidated High School in 1966 as the class valedictorian, and entered Albany State College that same year.
“My dad was killed in a car wreck when I was 12, which left my mother as a widow with eight little mouths to feed. She died at age 43 from a stroke while I was attending college, which left me responsible for my seven younger siblings. Getting my college education was the dream and hope of my mother, so I was committed to finishing my education. I had to drop out in 1968, so I took a class here and there whenever I could to get my degree, which I completed with honors and graduated with a degree in English in 1995,” she said.
Haywood said it was hard having to work in factories, the fields and as a teacher’s aide while taking care of her siblings.
After graduation from college, she worked as a paralegal with Georgia Legal Services until she later decided to contract her services as an independent paralegal to other attorneys until she ran for and became mayor of Camilla in Nov. 2007.
“After enduring all of that, my younger siblings finally grew up and moved out on their own. My youngest sister died in 1982 leaving a young son, so I raised him. Another sister had two children, so I raised her kids as well. Basically, after raising all of my sisters and brothers, I started on another generation, including having a daughter of my own. I instilled the same values my parents taught me in her and my sisters’ three children that I also raised,” she said.
Haywood said that although she had to struggle a lot along the way, she instilled the importance of working hard and getting a good education.
She has a long history of community and public service, including being active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Mitchell County Board of Education and Board of Tax Assessors, just to name a few.
Haywood said that when she speaks to groups, she likes to challenge them.
“My charge to those in attendance is to be more service-minded, compassionate and not honor Dr. King just in words, but in deeds. I want them to take his life as an example by carrying on the works that he did. He was from an ordinary family and just like him, each of us has a calling that we must answer. Just like him, you too can make a significant impact in life and in history, by defining and fulfilling your calling,” she said.
It could be as simple as writing a check to a local organization in need, volunteering at least an hour a week, or random acts of kindness such as picking up the tab for a senior citizen or taking a pair of shoes to a needy child at school.
“It is important to give something of value other than just time. It is also important to remember and remind the generations that have come along since Dr. King, many who know nothing other than he had a dream, that for them to be where they are today and have the privileges they enjoy, someone had to sacrifice. He saw the importance of every life, from the garbage workers to the highly educated. Today, we have too many disconnects in the classes, but he had compassion for everyone. We need to remember that,” she said.
Col. Terry V. Williams, commanding officer, MCLB Albany, thanked those attending the ceremony and reinterated the theme, “We must remember, celebrate and act.”
“Today we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his courageous and landmark role in the civil rights movement and ultimately his struggle on the wider human rights as a whole,” he said. “Dr. King demonstrated uncommon courage in his pursuit of civil rights, those rights which are expressly enumerated by the U.S. Constitution, considered to be unquestionable and deserved by all people—basic human rights . . . even at the expense of his own life.
“In addition, we celebrate his achievements, many of which changed for the better, the very foundation of our society,” Williams said. “And we must act on his legacy by continuing to champion the cause of equality and equal opportunity.”