“I know that we can win.
I know that greatness lies in you,
But remember from here on in,
History has its eyes on you.”
Those are lyrics from “History has Its Eyes on You,” a song from the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” The song title served as the theme for the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration held Monday in Paducah.
The federal holiday, celebrated on the third Monday of January, was first celebrated in 1986.
The program, hosted by the Paducah-McCracken County Chapter of the NAACP, was held Monday at Paducah Tilghman High School following a luncheon in the school cafeteria.
Paducah native and NFL veteran George Wilson, who played for the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans and has turned to philanthropic work in his football retirement — including programs such as Summer SportsFest, Toys for Tots and the George Wilson SAFETY Foundation — served as the emcee for the program.
It featured the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Negro National Anthem, by Myrian Freeman and the reading of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech by ministers Chris Cody, Calvin Cole, Donna Hawkins, Nathan Joyce, Michael Pryor and Marcus Turnley.
Other songs performed during the program were “Up the Mountain” by Tiffany Benberry and “A Change is Gonna Come” by Jaelon Harris.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman told the story about her grandfather, Jack Coleman, and how he declined to accept a scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky.
“My grandfather, Jack Coleman, Sr., stood a towering 6 foot, 8 inches tall,” she said. “As you might imagine, my 6-8 grandfather was a star athlete. He went on to become a two-time NBA champion an all-star and a Hall of Famer.”
Her grandfather was recruited by Kentucky head coach Adolph Rupp, a dream opportunity for most kids in Kentucky.
“But my grandfather refused his scholarship offer,” she said, “because at that time, Black players were not allowed on the University of Kentucky basketball team.
“I am still amazed and grateful that my then-17-year-old grandfather had the moral compass, the wisdom and the guts to pass up what many would consider the opportunity of a lifetime, some 20 years before the Civil Rights Movement began.”
Coleman went on to become the University of Louisville’s first 1,000-point scorer and had a nine-year NBA career with the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) and the St. Louis Hawks (now the Atlanta Hawks).
The guest speaker of the program was Terrance Sullivan, the executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, who is also a native of Madisonville.
“My message today is that every little thing we do, it matters,” he told the audience. “History, at all times, has its eye on us. But what does that mean?
“The long and the short of it is that what we do today is a testament to what we want for the future. The world in which we exist is the world that we ourselves create, and what we put out in the world is often what we see. So, if we act decent and good to others, those people can see that the world is, in fact, decent and good. It also means that we must be mindful in the work that we do.”
After the program, both featured speakers spoke to The Sun. Sullivan said “it was great to have the opportunity” to come speak in Paducah on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“But for the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity,” he said. “I think (the holiday) really means hope. We see now even more how much his work is still needed.”
Coleman said coming to Paducah was “one of those opportunities I couldn’t pass up.”
“I could have been anywhere in the state — we got a lot of invitations — but being able to show up in a place where we consider far western Kentucky,” she said. “They won’t see a lot of elected officials a lot of the time. I’m from a small town, and we don’t, either, and I know how that feels, so I like to show up (in that kind of area).
“I tell that story about my grandfather so that people understand that there have been a lot of glimmers of hope throughout the years, and having that influence my life helped shape my perspective and who I am and who I became. Our job is to be that to someone else.”