UNION — Monday evening’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration held at Sims Middle School included musical performances by the Sunrise Singers, Amy House and members of the Union County High School Chorus.
Those who spoke included Rickey Fernandez, Edith Foster, the Rev. Malachi Duncan, Mayor Harold Thompson, Floyd Lyles, III, Floyd Lyles, Jr., the Rev. Michael Glenn, Sims Principal Mickey Connolly, James R. Rice, the Rev. Malachi Duncan and keynote speaker Dr. Erica Savage-Jeter.
Dr. Savage-Jeter is a native of Carlisle and graduated from Union High School in 1998. She went on to graduate from Wofford College in 2002 and the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in 2006. She worked as a family physician in the Union Hospital District from September 2009 to December 2011, and she is currently a family physician at Family Medical Center and a staff physician at Mary Black Healthcare System.
Savage-Jeter began her speech by acknowledging her first teacher, her mother, Barbara Savage.
“Her sweet spirit is always with me,” she said. “When you grew up like I did in the country, you were always around older people that — whether they knew it or not — imparted some wisdom on you, and I am grateful for people like my granddad Arthur Rice Sr. and aunt Asilee Rice in my life. I honor them tonight as well.”
Savage-Jeter’s theme was, “We are striving to reach the mountaintop.”
She mentioned an African-American History professor she had who told her she had not struggled against anything, and that her forefathers had already overcome struggles which allowed her to sit in that class. Savage-Jeter said the professor’s comment did not inspire or encourage her, but left her indifferent about the civil rights movement and race relations as a whole.
As Savage-Jeter continued, she posed questions to the audience.
“So, are we there?” she asked. “Are we at the promise land? Are all men and women created equally? Do all people have the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Are people not judged on the color of their skin, but rather the content of their character?”
Savage-Jeter discussed the “mountain top” experiences that have been reached such as the Civil Rights Act of 1968, making it illegal to discriminate in the sale, rental and financing of housing. She mentioned the beginning of Affirmative Action in 1961, ordering employers not to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color or national origin. She also mentioned decisions in 1968, 1978 and 2003 which passed the principle on to higher education institutions and included further statutes preventing discrimination based on sex, age, sexual orientations and disabilities.
“And we could not dare fail to mention probably one of the greatest mountaintop experiences in the history of the U.S. as it relates to civil rights and discrimination, the election and re-election of our first African-American president, President Barack Hussein Obama, whose main objective was to reunite a failing legislature process, where people would focus on issues and not political parties and special interests; and look to provide common good for the common people,” Savage-Jeter said.
She went on to say, however, that many mountains still lie ahead.
“Differences among people are no longer called discrimination, but have now been termed ‘ethnic and racial disparities,’” she said.
Savage-Jeter pointed out several facts including African Americans are almost twice as likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic Americans; twice more African-American women will die from breast cancer than Caucasian women; for every three women who are newly diagnosed with HIV, two of them are African-American.
“In spite of significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of most chronic diseases, there is evidence that racial and ethnic minorities tend to receive lower quality of care than non-minorities and that patients of minority ethnicity experience greater mortality from various chronic diseases than non-minorities,” the physician explained. “The Institute of Medicine report on unequal treatment concluded ‘racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare exist, and because they are associated with worse outcomes in many cases, are unacceptable.’”
Savage-Jeter also discussed racial disparities in income, education and home ownership that continue to exist. She said Caucasian households have incomes two-thirds higher than African-Americans and 40 percent higher than Hispanics last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. She said in 2005, the poverty rate for Caucasians was 8.3 percent, while it was 24.9 percent for African Americans, 21.8 percent for Hispanics and 11.1 for Asians.
“I could go on and on!” Savage-Jeter said after listing several more facts. “Until we confront them and until America admits there is a problem, can we say that truly every American has access to the pursuit of happiness or that we are living the dream Dr. King envisioned? I do not think so.”
She then offered inspiration.
“Do not give up; do not become complacent where you are; and strive to reach those moutaintops; climbing, enduring, celebrating in victories, learning from your defeats until we reach the promised land,” she said. “In the words of Dr. King, ‘Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.’ The time is now!”
She then closed by reflecting on the writings of Paul in Philippians 3: 12-15.
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at email@example.com.