The event is sponsored every year by South Central Kingsport Community Development Inc. (SCKCD) and was inspired by the tragic death of 4-year-old Jalisha Ferguson, who was killed by a stray bullet while playing in her yard in 1994 when a drug deal in her neighborhood turned violent.
Every year the event reminds Kingsport residents that although they may be separated by different neighborhoods, different churches or have different skin color, they still share the same goal of making Kingsport the safest and most prosperous city for everyone who lives there.
In that spirit the annual SCKCD scholarship was awarded to Dobyns-Bennett High School senior Phillip A. Hamilton, who will receive $500 toward college tuition throughout his four years of college studies. Presenter Linda Calvert, who read from Hamilton’s application essay before presenting the scholarship, said she knows of no one better deserving of the award than Hamilton, who is a role model for youths in his community.
Another award presented during Sunday’s event was the SCKCD Community Service Award, which went to Johnnie Mae Swaggerty in recognition of her work with children over the past 20 years and the long list of volunteer activities she performs in community programs.
Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips read a proclamation establishing February as Black History Month in Kingsport and asking “everyone to join me in thanking our African American citizens for their contributions to our community and nation.”
But the main attraction for Sunday’s Community Unity Celebration, as it has always been, was the music and dance performances on the stage of the Eastman Chemical Co. Toy F. Reid Employee Center, which has hosted all 14 Community Unity events.
Among the vocal performers were the Community Unity Choir, the Mountain Mission School Choir from Grundy, Va., and Dr. Ivy McQuirter performing a reading of a selection by African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.
There were also dance performances by groups from Central Baptist Church and Hale’s Chapel United Methodist Church of Gate City.
The invocation was given by the Rev. A. Clark Jenkins of the First Broad Street United Methodist Church.
“We pray for guidance in this 14th gathering of this community to celebrate our unity, and we know God that we must work hard to achieve this goal, but through you all things are possible,” Jenkins said.