Tuesday, February 23, 2016

[335] MTSU Unity Luncheon speaker: ‘Everyday changes’ have ripple effect on society

MURFREESBORO — A criminal appeals court judge said the answer to the country’s problems lies not with politicians, but with people who commit to do little things every day to greatly improve their society.

Judge Camille R. McMullen, the first African-American woman to serve on an intermediate court in Tennessee history, delivered the keynote address at MTSU’s 20th annual Unity Luncheon Feb. 18 in the Student Union Ballroom.

“I honestly think the answers come from people who are here today, the people that you are honoring and celebrating today,” McMullen said.

McMullen acknowledged that, despite the efforts of unsung heroes, society seems to be fighting some of the same battles over and over. Among those she listed were “the fact the United States Supreme Court has now reversed certain pivotal portions of the Voting Rights Act and now could possibly revisit landmark cases that affect affirmative action.”

McMullen encouraged the audience to appreciate that America’s differences make it stronger and that people must work together for the common good.

“I truly believe that the small changes, the everyday changes, have a ripple effect on our society,” she said. “I truly believe that if we all view our differences as plusses rather than minuses, this world would be a better place.”

An MTSU tradition since 1996, the Unity Luncheon celebrates unsung community heroes age 60 or older who have lived in the Middle Tennessee area for 25 years or more and who have made outstanding contributions to their society in education, community service, black arts, sports or as advocates of civility.

This year’s honorees were:

  • Ray Fite, delegate to district association ministries and state convention as well as many other duties for Cherry Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Murfreesboro;

  • Marva Hudspeth, retired alcohol and drug treatment counselor and volunteer at Mt. Pleasant Middle School’s Kindle Club and Mt. Pleasant Historical Museum in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee;

  • Jo Anne Gaunt, financial secretary of Berry Chapel AME Church in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and recipient of the Distinguished Toastmaster Certificate from Toastmasters International;

  • Joe Herbert, Rutherford County, Tennessee, educator and administrator for more than 40 years and advocate for educational equity;

  • The Rev. Robert D. James, pastor of St. John United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, former assistant principal at Murfreesboro’s Riverdale High School and three-time NFL Pro Bowler as a Buffalo Bills defensive back from 1969 to 1974;

  • The Rev. H. Bruce Maxwell, pastor of Lake Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, for 40 years and Board of Trustees member of Belmont University in Nashville;

  • Russell D. Merriweather, volunteer for AARP in the Nashville area and 2010 recipient of Tennessee’s AARP Andrus Award for Community Service;

  • Albert Nelson, minister, Sand Hill Church of Christ in La Vergne, Tennessee, a member of Friends of Bradley Academy, a support group for Murfreesboro’s Bradley Academy, and a mentor to fifth- and sixth-grade boys through a Delta Sigma Theta program;

  • Florine Ratliff, MTSU alumna and teacher for 30 years at Mitchell-Neilson Elementary School in Murfreesboro.

Former Murfreesboro Fire and Rescue Department Chief Cumbey Gaines, the first African-American to hold that position, received a special Trailblazer Award. Gaines, who retired in 2015, had served the city for 35 years. He was the department’s first African-American inspector, shift commander and deputy chief.

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