‘Shine like stars in the sky’

Published 9:52 pm Monday, January 20, 2020

The president of the American Gold Star Moms organization called on people to “shine like stars in the sky” in service to others during the S. Delois Mayes Scholarship Foundation’s sixth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Benefit Brunch Monday.

The theme of Mona Gunn’s speech was based around the King quote, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Gunn also tied that in to the Bible scripture Philippians 2:15-16.

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“So that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation, then you (will) shine among them like stars in the sky,” Gunn said in quoting the scripture, “as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”

Gunn, whose son, Cherone Louis Gunn, was one of 17 sailors killed in the terrorist attack on the USS Cole on Oct. 12, 2000, spoke to an audience of about 100 people during the brunch, held at the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk/Chesapeake in Harbour View. The annual event raises money to pay for scholarships for local students. It has awarded more than $44,000 in scholarships to 30 students, according to foundation founder Ebony Wright.

It is Wright’s sister, S. Delois Mayes, who is memorialized through the foundation. Mayes died in a car accident in 2002.

Gunn wrapped up her speech by sharing a story “about a daughter who complained to her dad … that her life was miserable that she didn’t know how she was going to make it.”

In that story, Gunn related, the father asked her to see what happens to a potato, an egg and coffee beans when put under the stress of boiling water.

All she noticed about the three things, Gunn said, was that they were a potato, an egg and coffee beans. The father in the story, she said, asked the daughter to look closer and see how each had transformed under stress.

The hard potato became soft and weak. The egg went from a fragile object with a thin shell protecting a liquid interior, to becoming hardened on the inside. And the coffee beans changed the water and created something new.

“When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond?” Gunn asked. “Are you a potato, an egg or a coffee bean? As an American Gold Star Mother, I am living a life where I am doing for others. The S. Delois Mayes Foundation is doing for others. Martin Luther King Jr. spent his life doing for others. I think I am the coffee bean.

“I’m hoping that I’m making an impact, and I ask you … what are you doing for others? Do you shine like stars in the sky? Because, as an American Gold Star Mother, I feel I am shining like a star in the sky, but my star is a gold star.”

Nansemond River High School senior Corie Williams shared what King meant to her in her speech, “What the Dream Means to Me.”

At first, she said, she struggled with writer’s block, because she had so much to say about King that she didn’t know where to start. But, as she continued to work on what to write, “it was almost as if Dr. King started to speak to me through my pain. Dr. King left us with this great message, and it is up to me, the community, region and the United States as a whole to fulfill his legacy and make changes for a brighter and more just future. And with this, I must say, the future is now.”

Williams recalled King’s legendary March on Washington speech for jobs and freedom in 1963, out of which came his “I Have a Dream” speech, noting that he spoke about equality, police brutality, the right to vote and a world in which he saw his children being judged by the content of their character and not their skin color.

“Now, 57 years later, we can honestly say that strides have been made, but sadly, we can also say that we are still experiencing some of the trials today in the year 2020,” Williams said. “African Americans have given a lot to this country. We have built, bled, fought and died for this country.”

Last year’s scholarship recipients, Jacquelyn Hendricks and William G. Richardson II, gave thanks to the foundation for their awards — Hendricks via video from James Madison University, and in person from Richardson, who attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cordel Garrett Jr, the founder of Becoming A Change, an outreach organization dedicated to helping people in need, received the foundation’s Community Leadership Award. He echoed the call to service by saying people don’t have to have much to serve — just the will to do it.

His message to everyone: “Just start.”