The students of the Tennessee Christian Preparatory School took a morning of inspiration and translated it into action.
Their motivation came from the school’s assembly program marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Dr. Bill Balzano, TCPS president, called it a “special morning with a lot of opportunities.
“The opportunity is to serve our community in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and in honor of our community,” Balzano said.
He said the school leadership looked at the calendar and decided to take the day and “instead of not having school and everybody goofing off, let’s have a day of service.”
The motto marking the day kept that spirit: “A day on and not a day off.”
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland was on hand to give remarks preceeding the morning’s special guest.
“I want to challenge you when you leave this school; Jesus has been implanted into your lives and your hearts. Don’t forget that when doing outside work,” Rowland said.
“No matter what your vocation is in life, you can never serve those entities until you first serve Him. That’s one of the most important things you can remember.”
The mayor’s words led into his recollections of the morning’s main speaker, the Rev. Ron Hill.
“He was a school principal for a long time and he had the audacity while he was principal to have a band that held his city ID around his neck that said, ‘Jesus loves you,’” Rowland recalled. “Can you believe that? What a message that was to the children he came in contact with every single day.”
Rowland mentioned King was a nonviolent person and wondered aloud what terrorists who are threatening the Olympic Games can accomplish with violence.
“Look what Dr. King accomplished without a single shot being fired,” Rowland said.
He said King’s philosophy of judging people by their character and not the color of their skin should always be maintained.
Michelle Augustine, TCPS administrator, sang “Woke Up This Morning” to accompany a video of King and the images of the adversities African-Americans went through during those tumultuous days of the early 1960s.
She also led in the anthem, “We Shall Overcome,” having all in attendance hold hands as they joined voices in harmony singing the words, “We’ll walk hand in hand some day.”
Balzano recalled the story of when his father came to the United States from Italy.
“He encountered just a tiny bit of the discrimination that an entire race of people lived with in our country for many years,” Balzano said.
He said his father would be called names and be spat upon.
“As we celebrate Dr. King, as large a person as he was, it’s more than Dr. King. It’s about two people or more reconciling differences in honor of Christ,” Balzano said.
Hill said he liked the school’s motto for the day because it was “important to remember the man, but not sleep through the morning.”
He chose four of the “beautiful faces” he saw within the student body to come up to join him.
He placed the two girls in chairs and had the two boys stand.
Using great humor, he continously fawned over the girls, giving each a candy bar.
The boys got a “cold shoulder” treatment and were forced to share a candy bar.
“You young ladies are so special,” Hill told the girls.
“Here. You all share that,” he said as he passed the candy bar to the boys.
The continued treatment brought laughs from everyone, but it also presented a serious message.
Hill began bringing to life the biography of King and why he led the iconic movement.
“There were separate schools. There was a time it would not be accepted for someone like me to be standing here in front of students like you,” Hill said.
He said on buses there were those who could sit and those who would stand in the back.
“There were also separate communities,” Hill said. “That was just the way it was. When my wife and I moved into our community 35 years ago, we were the first blacks to ever live on the block.”
He said restaurants were like the buses.
“We had to go to the back,” he recalled. “We could work and make the food, but we couldn’t necessarily come out and sit with you and share with you.”
Hill remembered when there were separate water fountains.
“I almost lost my father. He was coming home on the bus and when the bus stopped, he went to get something to drink,” he said.
“He said he noticed everyone stopped and started looking at him. He thought it was his uniform. He went back on the bus and it got quiet. He then realized he had drank from the wrong water fountain. The fountains were marked ‘white’ and ‘colored.’ People were angrily looking at me. He started praying he could get out of there for fear of being lynched.”
He said there were also separate churches and activities, which brought him back to the four youths he had brought up front.
“Did you see how I treated them? In another world, [the girls] would be the white community and [the boys] would be the black community,” Hill said. “These guys would just be overlooked.”
He said he would hear the phrase, “Separate but equal.”
“I wondered, if we are separate, how can we be equal? And, if we’re equal how can we be separate?”
Hill also told the students King and his family had visited Cleveland in the 1950s and had stayed with Miss Mae Clark.
“At that time there was only one hotel downtown and blacks could not stay there,” Hill said. “They ended up in Miss Mae’s house.
“People were impressed. The name probably didn’t mean too much at the time. It was the way he projected himself. He was a Baptist minister. When he spoke, he spoke with the voice of authority,” he said.
He said the message of nonviolence also connected, but described the moment King was assassinated.
“The nation and the world mourned, because a voice that endorsed nonviolence, ‘Jesus is still the answer’ and ‘Love will conquer all’ was silenced,” Hill said.
Students, accompanied by teachers and parents, then traveled to the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway.
There, more than 80 took up gloves and trash bags to help clean up the popular trail and waterway.
The students spread themselves out from one end of the Greenway to the other, some even sliding down the banks of Mouse Creek to pick up refuse from the water.
They were doing it with dedication and laughs.
“We want to be known as an asset to the community,” Balzano said.
Andri Wood, principal of the upper grades, said students try to help in several areas.
“We work with the Salvation Army and our students are eager to help in many other ways.”
In some ways, the TCPS students may be taking from a quote from King they did not even hear Monday morning.
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of Heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”