The keynote speaker at the 20th Annual Martin Luther King Community Breakfast shared how racism wounded him, and how three special teachers helped him begin to heal and succeed as a student.

Chad Sims, 36, among the youngest speakers ever at the Monday morning gathering honoring the impact of the late clergyman and civil rights leader, talked of his carefree, younger years in Columbus with friends of other races until a middle school atmosphere of racial tension changed all that.

“I’m not here to castigate,” said Sims, son of community leaders Pastor Jane and Bishop Charles Sims of Calvary Community Church, speaking at the Columbus North High School cafeteria. “I’m not here to throw stones, but I am here to tell my story.”

The breakfast event carried the theme, “What’s Going On?” from the 1971 Marvin Gaye song, featured in a video of local singers crooning the tune. Related to that was the question, “What are YOU going to do?”

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Among the 300 people in the audience with the opportunity to privately contemplate their answers were Mayor Jim Lienhoop, law enforcement heads, leaders of the Bartholomew County Area Chapter of the NAACP; members of the Columbus Human Rights Commission, church leaders, business and corporate heads, and a large contingent of local students. Clergy members in attendance included the local African American Pastors Alliance, which organized the event.

Sims, currently a doctoral counseling psychology student at Ball State University, said his Columbus middle school experience could be summed up in one thought: “If you’re black, we don’t want you here.”

He paused during his speech to regain his composure as he began to recall such pain from peers that included racial slurs, threats and even some physical violence.

“I found myself isolated, abandoned and alone,” he said.

After his middle school experience, Sims said three teachers in high school came alongside him to show him love, affirmation and encouragement: Darin Sprong, now principal at W.D. Richards Elementary School; Greg Lewis, social studies chairman at Columbus East High School; and Audrey Jefferson, now an Ivy Tech Community College history professor in Indianapolis.

Sims praised Jefferson in particular for teaching him to make sure he would not use being an African-American as an excuse for not succeeding in life.

He also commended the work of the new Black Lives Matter of Columbus chapter in his remarks, “because they’re having the tough conversations (on race).”

Sims said his adult experiences in his hometown of Columbus, especially 13 years working at Cummins Inc., have been wonderfully marked by close friendships with people of various races.

“We discovered that, at the end of the day, the only thing that was different about any of us was our hair texture and skin tone,” he said.

Lienhoop, offering a welcome message, talked of how just one of King’s impacts today is the encouragement of people to use their conscience to do the right thing and take action against racism. He spoke sadly of doing a TV interview along Washington Street after a recent local event and hearing a passing motorist shout “Build that wall!” as the man drove past.

“That kind of rhetoric has no place in our community,” Lienhoop said to loud applause.

Jim Roberts, superintendent of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., also offered brief remarks, reflecting on a trip to Memphis, Tennessee, where King was assassinated April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel. Roberts’ visit included a stop at the National Civil Rights Museum, on the grounds of the Lorraine, where Room 306 — where King stayed before he was shot — has been preserved.

Roberts is an Elvis Presley fan who also visited Presley’s label of Sun Records while he was in Memphis.

During his remarks, Roberts imitated Presley responding to a question from a record-company secretary, asking who he sounded like.

“I don’t sound like nobody m’am,” Roberts said of Presley’s reply to her question.

Then he segued to King.

“Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t sound like nobody else, either,” Roberts said for effect in purposely broken English.

Local students at the event said they found Sims’ keynote remarks interesting and honest.

All but one of several black teens interviewed afterward said they are grateful to report that they have experienced almost none of the struggle Sims endured in the 1990s.

“It hasn’t happened in my experience,” said James Fountain, a Columbus East High School freshman. “But I wanted to be here to support MLK and my church and everyone else who has fought for equality and equal rights.”

About Chad Sims

Age: 36.

Hometown: Columbus.

Current role: Doctoral counseling psychology student at Ball State University. His research interest is Racial Identity among African American males and its association with academic performance.

Past education: Bachelor’s degree, IUPUC school of liberal arts with a concentration in human and behavioral science. Master’s degree in counseling and counselor education from Indiana University School of Education at IUPUI.

Past: Varied posts range from a Cummins Fuel Systems worker for 13 years to former youth director at Calvary Community Church.

Award winner

The local African American Pastors Alliance honored Pastor Jane Sims of Calvary Community Church with the Beloved Community Award at Monday’s 20th Annual Martin Luther King Community Breakfast.

Sims founded the Columbus church with her husband, Bishop Charles Sims, in 1975 and serves as co-pastor.

Besides her ministry efforts, she is an author and speaker. Her community work ranges from having been a local Girl Scout leader to a fomer United Way of Bartholomew County board member.

“My heart is grateful to know that we as a community have come this far,” Sims said.

Scholarship winners

The local African American Pastors Alliance honored three students with $500 college scholarships at the 20th Annual Martin Luther King Community Breakfast. They are:

  • Jacob Anderson, a senior at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech with a 3.9 grade-point average.
  • Taylor Smith, a senior at Columbus East High School carrying a 3.3 grade-point average.
  • Stephon Peters-Smith, a senior at Columbus North High School with a grade-point average of 3.6.
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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.