For Murfreesboro City Councilwoman and MTSU alumna Madelyn Scales Harris, being among the five honorees at Tuesday’s Unity Luncheon at MTSU represented the legacy of a father and mother who instilled in her the desire to serve her community.
“I’m standing on the shoulders of my parents, and I’m trying to continue the legacy,” she said following MTSU’s 19th annual gathering, which was held in the Student Union Ballroom. “I got a good start because I was born and raised in a home where … not only did they teach, but they showed by example that we serve God by serving our fellow man.”
Scales Harris and the other honorees — Clifford Allison, Dr. Barbara Canada, Percy Ford and Karl Thomas — were all smiles upon receiving their engraved crystal awards before an admiring crowd who came to show their support. A hallmark of MTSU’s Black History Month observances since 1996, the luncheon highlights the achievements of citizens whose guiding principle is service to others.
Nominees for the award must be age 60 or older, have resided in the Middle Tennessee area for 25 years or more and who have made outstanding contributions to their community.
Inspired by the theme in the famous poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, Jonell Hinsey, director of MTSU’s Intercultural and Diversity Center and chair of the Black History Month Committee, applauded the honorees for taking the road less traveled, one filled with selflessness and sacrifice for the benefit of others.
“You stopped and you recognized where there needed to be help … what needed to be done,” Hinsey said. “And for that, we celebrate you. We celebrate you while you are here.”
In his remarks, keynote speaker Bishop Joseph W. Walker III, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, used the biblical story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead — rolling the stone away from his grave — to illustrate the point that we shouldn’t give up on people or prematurely label them as “dead and powerless and hopeless.”
“Today we honor people who dared to roll the stones away. People who were not satisfied with being apathetic or casual regarding the various concerns of our community, but are true heroes and she-roes in our community,” he said. “And we honor you today because your light literally symbolizes that you would do what nobody else was willing to do. …To tell somebody that the people you gave up on have value.”
Clifford Allison: A veteran of World War II, Allison was drafted at age 18 and served in the European Theater of Operations. In peacetime, Allison ran a well-respected mortuary business. The 91-year-old Allison is an active member of the American Legion.
Dr. Barbara Canada: A retired Tennessee State University assistant professor and cooperative extension specialist, Canada is the founder and chief executive officer of Aspire to Educate-Empower-Encourage. Known as “AE3,” the nonprofit organization was founded to help people and groups achieve business, health and community-building goals.
Percy Ford: A nationally certified drug and alcohol counselor, Ford is a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Key United Methodist Church and the Murfreesboro chapter of the NAACP.
Karl Thomas: A poet and oral historian known as K.H.A.O.S., Thomas worked for 10 years at The Village Cultural Arts Center, which provided programs designed to deter teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency and high-school dropout rates. Previously, Thomas founded and managed the Outreach Program from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s to help the underprivileged access disability benefits or drug and alcohol rehabilitation services.
Scales Harris, the only woman on the Murfreesboro City Council, is retired from State Farm Insurance Company as a business account underwriter. She is the owner of New Beginnings, a youth motivational speaking company. Her community service legacy includes activism with the League of Women Voters, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund of Rutherford County and First Baptist Church, among other groups.
Her late father, Robert “Tee-Niny” Scales, was the city’s first black councilman when he was elected in the early 1960s. Her late mother, Mary Scales, followed in his footsteps more than two decades later, becoming the first black woman elected to the City Council.
Scales Harris continued the family legacy by being elected to the council in 2010. With Tuesday’s honor, she follows in the footsteps of her mother, who was honored at the 2012 Unity Luncheon before succumbing to cancer in 2013.
In welcoming attendees to the luncheon, Dr. John Omachonu, vice provost for academic affairs, stressed the importance of events such as this to celebrate the diversity within the community.
“The more inclusive we are as a university, the stronger we are, not weaker,” he said. “The more unified we are, the stronger we are as an institution.”
— Jimmy Hart (email@example.com)