The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

January 20, 2013

Togetherness is theme of MLK celebration founder's message

ENID, Okla. — Clayton Nolen grew up in Enid in a five-bedroom “box.” His family did not have a car, and there were no paved roads in his neighborhood.

“But we never felt poor,” Nolen said.

The house had no bathtub. To bathe, they placed hot water in a washtub.

Nolen talked about growing up in segregated schools during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration Sunday evening at Enid Convention Hall.

Nolen is a former Enid city commissioner and the founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. observance, which is in its 25th year.

He now is the administrator of the same school he attended as a child, and teaches GED courses there. Nolen said the teachers in the school were unique and taught the students to respect other people, and how to act in public. And they expected them to be educated.

“They wanted us to learn,” he said.

He attended Booker T. Washington for one year, until it was closed and the schools desegregated. He went from Booker T. Washington to Longfellow Junior High, then to Enid High School. Upon graduating from high school, he attended Langston University, where he had a unique experience being in the racial majority. He attended that school for one year, then attended the University of Central Oklahoma, then called Central State College.

While at Langston, he was told he did not speak like the other students. He credited that with attending an integrated school. After he graduated from Central State, he was hired at Enid Public Schools.

Nolen said he suffered from stuttering as a child, but when he was a senior in high school, it left him.

“By the grace of God, it left me,” he said.

Nolen served on the Enid Human Rights Commission, and was persuaded to run for city commission.

The theme for this year’s celebration was “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work,” and he talked about the team he had behind him when he ran for the commission.

“God was my captain and Jesus was my coach,” he said.

While a member of the commission, the city was experiencing hard times, Nolen said. The city needed a celebration to bring the whole city together. He suggested the Martin Luther King Jr. commission to former assistant City Attorney Carol Lahman, and it was approved by the city commission.

Nolen said one person is not a team, and, if not for his team, he would not have been elected.

“You can’t be successful without education,” he said.

Nolen said he has seen a lot of changes in Enid, but there is more to be done. He encouraged the packed Convention Hall to love difficult people, and to let God be their pilot.

He read the Serenity Prayer, which he said is one of his favorites. He closed with a challenge to those attending.

“Team up together, find a purpose, and create a more productive community.”

Col. Darren V. James, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base, spoke to the crowd about history’s incredible visionaries. He quoted Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., saying the color of an individual’s skin or their gender does not determine their character.

This year is the 65th anniversary of President Truman desegregating the military.

“That unique diversity is our underlying strength,” James said. “Teamwork does indeed make the dream work.”

Ward 5 City Commissioner Tammy Wilson also spoke to the group. Wilson quoted King, saying, “Even if the world ends tomorrow, I will still plant my apple tree today.”

She said teamwork is common people producing uncommon results. She said  the community has the ability to move itself forward, and asked if it had the will.

“I believe we do,” she said.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a minister, and the annual celebrations have always had a religious nature.

The Community Choir performed four pieces, plus the national anthem. The invocation was delivered by the Rev. Larry Featherstone of New Light Baptist Church. Mayor Bill Shewey delivered a welcome address. The posing of colors was performed by the Vance AFB Silver Talon Honor Guard.

A rendition of the “I Have a Dream” speech was given by Derrick G. Silas Jr., a seventh-grade student at Grace Academy Christian School. Silas brought the crowed to its feet as he performed the speech without notes.

Diversity Awards were presented to Park Avenue Thrift; Leona Mitchell Southern Heights Heritage Center and Museum; Janet Cordell; and Alfred and Vicki Baldwin.

Awards also were presented for the poster and essay contest.

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