Northampton Community Unity Day Draws Joyful Crowd

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Linda Byrd Hedgepeth delivers the keynote speech. Photo by Stefanie Jackson.

By Stefanie Jackson – People of all races and backgrounds turned out in record numbers at the Northampton High School cafeteria Monday for the 30th annual Community Unity breakfast, held every Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The event was organized by President Jane Cabarrus of the Northampton County NAACP with the support of Northampton County Public Schools and Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore.

Keynote speaker Lynda Byrd Hedgepeth addressed the standing-room-only audience with words that drew inspiration from King’s most famous speech:

“If you’re going to live the dream, you have to be the dream.”

It’s been more than 65 years since Brown v. Board of Education and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that school segregation is unconstitutional.

Yet children still struggle today to get a good education, facing issues like bullying and the underfunding of public schools, Hedgepeth said.

But “we collectively have the power to change the whole world just by what we do tomorrow,” she said – including showing kindness to others.

“People can forget what you say. … People forget what you do. But they won’t forget how you treat them,” Hedgepeth said.

At its annual breakfast, the Northampton County NAACP honors those who have worked to foster unity within the community and gives each honoree the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award or Trailblazer Award.

This year’s winners of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award were Gerald and Polly Boyd, Bruce Griffin Sr., Connie Morrison, Betty Jean Sims-Bell, and Joan Wilson.

Gerald Boyd is a certified alcohol and drug counselor, and Polly Boyd is a licensed clinical therapist. They are likely best known for their work in Exmore at Eastern Shore Training and Consulting Inc. (ESTACI) and the Peacewerks Center for Well-Being, which they co-own and operate.

Bruce Griffin Sr. retired from Northampton County Public Schools after more than 35 years as a custodian and bus driver. During that time, he volunteered for Northampton County Parks and Recreation and the NAACP.

Connie Morrison is the co-owner and editor of the Eastern Shore Post and a Virginia Press Association award winner. She is a member of ESTACI and helped the organization establish scholarships for students who have been affected by racism, sexism, or poverty.

Betty Jean Sims-Bell has worked at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital (RSMH) for more than 43 years, most recently in medical coding. She has volunteered for local organizations and events including the Barrier Islands Center, the NAACP, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast, and Juneteenth.

Joan Wilson was the first black registered nurse to work at the Northampton-Accomack Memorial Hospital, where she later became a nurse manager and supervisor. Among her other community contributions, she has served on the Eastern Shore Community Services Board for the last seven years.

This year’s Trailblazer Award winners were Delores Lindsey, the Rev. Chester Morris, and Willie Randall.

Delores Lindsey was a teacher for 39 years, a career that began and ended in Northampton County. She served on the Northampton school board and volunteered for groups including District One Community Action and Frances B. Latimer’s Eastern Shore African American Collection group.

The Rev. Chester Morris is a preacher and former teacher in Northampton schools. He was appointed a presiding elder of the Virginia Annual Conference’s Norfolk-Eastern Shore district and is a member of organizations including the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and the Prince Hall Masons.

Willie Randall is a retired Army officer and a local businessman who has donated time and resources to numerous charitable efforts on the Eastern Shore.

The Trailblazer Posthumous Award was presented in honor of the late David Mitchell, the first African American to work at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel when it opened in 1964, where he was a law enforcement officer in security.

Keynote speaker Linda Byrd Hedgepeth was the first African American mayor of Richmond, Va., and the first and youngest female executive director of the Virginia NAACP, among many other accomplishments.

“We are the dream, my brothers and sisters. We are the dream team,” she said.

But “we can’t do anything by ourselves. We’ve got to recognize that there’s a God that sits high, and he looks low.”

Hedgepeth left the audience with a final thought: “You have the power to make a difference. To God be the glory.”