For leaders from Troy University, the City of Troy and Pike County, Thursday morning’s Unity Prayer Breakfast was a time for reflection, conversation and most importantly, listening.
The event, sponsored by the Troy University Foundation, was held in the Trojan Center Ballrooms on the Troy Campus, attracting nearly 100 invited guests. The brainchild of Troy University Trustee, Mr. Lamar Higgins, and TROY Chancellor, Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., the event was intended to be a starting point for conversation and action regarding the state of race relations at the local, state and national level.
Higgins said recent events in this country “tore at my soul.”
“Unfortunately, the situation in Minneapolis with George Floyd and the violence against Blacks in this country continues to escalate,” Higgins said. “When I saw George Floyd screaming for his life and saying he couldn’t breathe, it hurt my heart. I thought it really could have been me and it wasn’t a far stretch. I found the people that care about me and I told them that I was hurting, and I’m thankful they listened. Today’s event is about starting a conversation, a difficult conversation, that many of us have never had to have before.”
Hawkins said the country is in the midst of a tumultuous time and is in dire need of unity.
“Troy University has built itself, over the last quarter century, on the basis of diversity, but that doesn’t mean that we are immune to the challenges of racism,” Hawkins said. “Today’s event was designed to provide us with the opportunity to look inside our hearts. We wanted to come together as a community to initiate a conversation. This is not the end, this is the beginning of a long conversation.”
Higgins served as a keynote speaker for the event, noting that the key element missing from the country today is compassion.
“America, I have seen your soul and I know you can do better,” Higgins said. “This isn’t political. It has everything to do with human life and human dignity. If you ask me what is the main thing we have lost in America, it is compassion. I’ve never seen a country that has abandoned the least of these the way we have in this country. I just want to ask you to do these things to make this country what it should be and make this University and this city what it needs to be – and that is to love one another. Don’t leave here like you came. Ask people how they feel. Talk to them — communicate. It’s not difficult. I know we can make a difference. America, I have seen your soul and America, I want it to love again.”
The Rev. Dr. Glenda Curry, who, on Saturday, will become Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, also served as a keynote speaker for the event, saying now is the time for people to work together to bring about change and reconciliation.
“People being one in unity is God’s dream for His people,” said Curry, who formerly served as President of Troy State University Montgomery and, along with Higgins, played key roles in creating the Rosa Parks Museum on the Montgomery Campus. “God expects us to grow in compassion as our Heavenly Father has shown compassion to us. There is a lot of pain around us. When we are in it, it gives us a chance to better understand the pain of others. It is time for a new kind of compassion, and we are called to be compassionate and love our neighbors as we have loved ourselves.”
The breakfast event also provided time for table discussions, led by Dr. Dionne Rosser-Mims, Dean of the University’s College of Education, allowing participants to reflect on questions of diversity, unity and action within the community. Mrs. Janice Hawkins, TROY’s First Lady, delivered the invocation for the event, while Bishop S.D. James delivered the benediction. Brig. Gen. Ed Crowell, a member of the Troy University Board of Trustees, served as the event’s emcee. Special music was provided by Shelia Jackson, Public Relations Director for the City of Troy.
Hawkins said Thursday’s event is the first step in an important ongoing conversation that will lead to understanding and ultimately, appreciation.
“I don’t think we can be our best selves until we know that we stand on the threshold of fairness and trust and love,” Hawkins said. “That is what we wanted to see happen as a result of this conversation is to begin to understand. I think what we have experienced at TROY over these years by bringing people from all over the world into a setting — working together, living together, praying together, having fun together — is that we have far more in common than we do in terms of differences. It is through that understanding that we believe we have increased our appreciation of each other.”