The Rev. Johnnie Otis Coe looked at the hundreds of faces looking back at him.
“It is time to wake up. The day is at hand,” he punched out each word with equal weight and volume as the guest speaker in the Drum Major Awards breakfast at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. “We have to realize that, sure enough, it’s time to wake up.”
Coe is the presiding elder of the Marion District of the AME Church. He supervises 34 churches and 31 pastors in Marion and Horry counties.
On Monday morning as folks ate eggs and sipped coffee in the banquet hall, Coe told them about Rip Van Winkle’s 20-year nap.
He recounted the Washington Irving tale of how Van Winkle woke to a world that had changed while he slept and a realization that life had continued without him. He told the crowd that we have become lazy waiting on younger generations to clean up behind us and fight the looming battles we should fight.
Coe told the crowd “while we were sleeping” school shootings have left parents grieving, a clean water crisis continues in Flint, Michigan, and state education statistics are grim.
“And, while we were sleeping we heard ‘Make America Great Again,’” he said. “Now, I’m going off script, but when was America great? Can anyone here think of a time they want to go back to again in America? The way I see it, we have been striving for greatness. Striving, moving forward, for greatness. We’ve been good, but not great. We ought to be working to go forward and not backward.”
The breakfast is part of the Grand Strand Freedom Week featuring events to celebrate and honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After the breakfast, the city was host to the annual parade on Ocean Boulevard.
Other events continue with a small business workshop and economic development summit at the train depot on Tuesday, a job fair on Wednesday at the Myrtle Beach campus of Horry Georgetown Technical College, a bias training workshop on Thursday at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, a film and video festival at the Mary Canty Recreation Center and a freedom walk/run on Carver Street on Saturday.
Also, as part of the annual celebration, the Carolina African American Heritage Foundation presents numerous Drum Major awards.
There were 29 awards given Monday. Six of the awards were for people who had worked to help others in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Seven of the awards were for people in the resort and tourism industry.
Iva Mae Ward of St. Paul AME Church received the perseverance award. Ward is 98 years old and is active in her church, the Order of the Eastern Star and other community activities.
The Hurricane Florence-related awards were given to a motel owner, the Horry County Police chief and several others.
Jaret Hucks of Midtown Motel received the Good Samaritan award for turning his motel into a place of refuge for Hurricane Florence victims. Lucy Buffet of Lulu’s North Myrtle Beach and Jeffrey Blount of the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach received the resort and tourism hospitality awards for providing meals in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Horry County Police Chief Joe Hill, Socastee High School student Ward Wilson and James R. Frazier Community Center Director Betty Gause were all recognized as being Hurricane Florence Heroes.
The education-related awards were given to numerous people and one football team.
The Myrtle Beach High School Seahawks football team was recognized for winning the state AAAA championship. Coach Mickey Wilson was recognized for his work with student athletics. Other Seahawks football players recognized were Luke Doty, Marcus Grissett and J.B. Favorite.
North Myrtle Beach’s Dysheek Green was recognized for maintaining a high grade point average while playing football, basketball and running track.
Michelle Greene-Graham, Myrtle Beach Elementary School principal, received the school and community connections award.
Jenny Leckey, Horry County Schools Early College High School teacher, received the teacher of the year award.
Claudine Schofield of Conway High School received the Drum Major for Change award.
The University of South Carolina student Daniel Mitchell, formerly of Myrtle Beach High School, received the student excellence award.
The resort and tourism hospitality awards were presented to Alexis Galloway of Big Mike’s Soul Food Restaurant, Sable Kendle of Oceana Resorts, Front Line employee of the year Ray Gilbert, and Jackie Bellamy with Winnie Stevens of Marina Inn at Grande Dunes.
Others recognized were Timothy Carter of FAVOR for lifetime achievement, civic and faith activism for fighting the opioid crisis; community activist Dale Abraham for the community leader of the year; Jimmy Washington for the Grand Strand leadership award; Christine K. Carr, founding member of Gun Sense Action committee, for civic activism; Horry County Coroner Robert Edge for the judicial award; Marilyn Fore, president of Horry Georgetown Technical College, for professional service; Prince Bowens, community leader, for the Booker T. Washington award; and Sam Lauren, restaurateur and owner of Eagles and Bargain Beachwear stores, for the business owner of the year award.