Longtime educator Shirley Johnson used her platform at the Spotsylvania Sunday School Union and county NAACP chapter’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast to share a personal story about another leader whose election sprung from King’s dream: former President Barack Obama.
Asked to say a few words after being announced as the first winner of the event’s Spirit of King Achievement Award, Johnson mesmerized the crowd of about 170 people at the American Legion Post 320 on Brock Road Monday by recounting how God had asked her to take a message to Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
Johnson, whose great-grandfather was a slave in Spotsylvania, oversees the GED program for Fredericksburg city schools and has been active at Second New Hope Baptist Church and in Democratic Party politics for years. She had met Obama earlier in his political career, so after she heard God speak to her in her bedroom one day before the convention, she made a hotel reservation in Denver, even though she didn’t yet know what message He wanted her to deliver.
Johnson said she canceled her trip after both she and one of her sons were involved in separate traffic accidents on the weekend before the event. But at the urging of a Hillary Clinton campaign staffer she knew, Johnson ultimately decided to attend after all, and ended up at a small post-nomination party with Obama.
She recalled that after she was able to make her way to the nominee, God gave her the message to pass on to the soon-to-be president: “Stay humble and don’t wade into the waters without me.” To applause, she told the attendees that her ability to deliver that message and the subsequent election of America’s first black president was proof of the Bible lesson that, “Through God, all things are possible.”
Her faith-focused message echoed the one delivered by the keynote speaker, the Rev. Hashmel Turner Jr. The former Fredericksburg City Council member and associate pastor of First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Sparta chose as his theme, “Where do we go from here?”
Turner noted numerous events in black history in which that question was probably raised, such as the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” beatings of civil rights marchers by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., and the assassination of King in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968. He told the crowd that King’s dream of a society where whites and blacks could come together “is deeply rooted in the American dream” and urged them to keep faith in God to deliver it.
“They killed the dreamer, but not his dream,” he said. “We are here today and living out that dream.”