Macon County's Human Resource Council will hold its annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration this Sunday at First United Methodist Church on Harrison Avenue in Franklin. The event, which is slated to begin at 3 p.m., will feature East Franklin Elementary Principal Shirley Ann West Parks as the guest speaker.
“It is an absolute honor to be chosen as the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration keynote speaker,” said Parks. “Not only because of the true momentousness of the occasion, but because of how respected Dr. King is by all of the people in our wonderful nation. Martin Luther King Jr. gave all of us a challenge to love, respect and nurture each other which is something that not only my speech, but my life is modeled after through my career in education.”
Parks was born to Francis and Harley West, one of ten children born and raised in Franklin. As a child, Parks attended Chapel School which was the predominantly “black” school in Franklin before it was eventually integrated into Franklin public schools. “After high school, I chose to further my education at St. Augustine University in Raleigh, to pursue a teaching degree,” said Parks. “After graduating from St. Augustine, I returned home to be with my family and begin a career in the Macon County school system.”
Parks began her career working with various teachers as a teaching assistant and after a few years, became a third grade teacher at Union School. “I soon decided to further my education at Western Carolina University where I pursued a master’s degree and an Educational Specialty Certification,” said Parks. Parks married Gerald Parks, also of Franklin, and together they have two children, Valerie Parks, 21 and Isaiah Parks, 13.
As Sunday's guest speaker, Parks plans to take the opportunity to encourage others to strive for excellence in order to reach their own success. “The theme of my speech is daring to accomplish your dreams and allowing others to do the same,” explained Parks. “I plan to speak about my personal struggles in life that have allowed me to be where I am today. I will also speak about how important it is that we as a society don’t stop at our own goals, and instead turn and grab someone else’s hand and help them to accomplish theirs as well.”
According to Parks, she believes that it is important for the community to continue hosting Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations because of the increased diversity and understanding among Maconians.
“Macon County is a county that has become very diverse. Working in the school system, I am able to see firsthand how many different cultures of people are beginning to call this beautiful community home,” said Parks. “Dr. King was a civil rights leader not only for the African American community but for everyone, and I believe that in a place where diversity is growing, we should continue to honor our roots and the people such as Dr. King that fought for all of us to live and interact as one.”
Indicative of the intent of Sunday's festivities, Parks hopes to honor Dr. King through inspiring others. “Again I am absolutely honored to be chosen as the MLK day guest speaker,” said said. “I am deeply humbled by this and hope to inspire someone through the words that I speak on this day.”
In addition to remarks by Parks, Sunday's festivities will include words by Franklin's Mayor Joe Collins and Board of Education member Gary Shields. There will be refreshments as well as music by Elizabeth Powell and the House of Prayer Band.