Sen. Kimpson to keynote annual MLK breakfast


Marlon Kimpson remembers his father telling him about the days growing up and picking cotton on the Gressette family farm in Calhoun County, where his grandparents were sharecroppers. Milton Kimpson told his son that while he and his siblings were helping their parents in the fields, they learned the importance of going to school, knowing they didn’t want to pick cotton the rest of their lives.

“We grew up in a home that viewed education as the opportunity for us to improve our quality of life. Education was our bridge over troubled water and our opportunity to become productive citizens. That was our ticket to the big dance,” he said. “With my parents, that’s all I knew. It was church, school and serving the community. We didn’t have an option.”

Today, Kimpson, a graduate of Atlanta’s Morehouse College and the University of South Carolina School of Law, goes to work in the L. Marion Gressette Office Building on the state capitol grounds. A lawyer, he represents Charleston and Dorchester counties in the state Senate. His former neighbor in Charleston, Thomas Gressette Jr., was the great-grandson of Marion Gressette, who spent 47 years in the state Senate.

“My family, coming from the cotton field to being the next-door-neighbor of Marion Gressette’s great-grandson, is a testament that education is the ticket to professional opportunities. That is why we need to do all we can to make sure all children, regardless of zip code, have a quality education, and that we’re bringing resources to all classrooms. Our children must be prepared to enter into this current environment, regardless of the family they come from.”

Kimpson will bring his story of education and equity to the University of South Carolina Tuesday when he speaks at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. in The Zone at Williams-Brice Stadium. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students, available at the Koger Center box office. Each year, the breakfast draws hundreds from the campus and the greater community.

For Kimpson, the breakfast offers the chance to participate in a celebration of the legacy of a man who had a profound impact on his life.

“I am a 1991 graduate of Morehouse College. Dr. King is a graduate of Morehouse College and his footprint was evident from the moment I set foot in college. He was, in some form or fashion, an everyday experience as I matriculated at his alma mater. That is where I really studied Dr. King and his life’s work,” Kimpson said. “His challenge was that we should be of public service; that we need to train and be informed and educated so we can go out and make a lasting and impactful impression on the world.”

Kimpson returned to South Carolina after Morehouse and initially worked as a banker, but he knew that was not his true calling. “When you do something you have a passion about, you are answering the call. One of mine was to be a lawyer, the other was to go into public service,” he said.

After graduating from UofSC’s law school, he answered the call for public service in 2013, when he was elected to the state Senate.

Kimpson, whose district includes the Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston and who has been among the state’s strongest advocates for social justice and equity, said the events of 2015 in South Carolina are reminders that bigotry, hate and racism still exist.

“These unfortunate circumstances have forced us to have a real conversation about race and how we move forward. The reality is, diversity and inclusion make us stronger. All of us need to understand this is something that’s mutually beneficial to our co-existence. All ethnicities must to be included in the progress of our state. We’re stronger together than we are apart,” he said. “We all have valuable contributions to add to the societal and economic engine of our state. Once we recognize that, we need to embrace policies in our state that will provide the necessary education and health care to make our citizenry more informed and more productive.”

The University of South Carolina began its annual celebrations to honor King’s life and legacy more than 30 years ago and was one of the first major universities in the South to do so. Bobby Gist, the university’s chief equal employment opportunity officer, has coordinated the event that celebrates the civil rights leader for the past 20 years.

“I have been working with the MLK Committee since 1996 and it has been a blessing to serve as a chair and a member. Dr. King’s legacy is something we totally support at USC and it means so much to celebrate and promote his great legacy,” Gist said. “The breakfast gives us the opportunity to reach out to the campus and the community and to take the primary lead in the state and city on celebrating Dr. King.

“It is my hope that his great legacy will continue to be honored, and 10 to 20 years from now we will be able to celebrate even more success at ensuring equality and justice for all persons.”

The breakfast begins the MLK commemoration on campus, which continues with a panel discussion at 6 p.m. Jan. 14 in the School of Law auditorium. The discussion will feature university law graduates retired South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal; Bob Coble, former Columbia mayor and lawyer with Nexsen Pruet; and Rep. Mia McLeod and law professor Eboni Nelson who teaches a course on race, class and education. The annual event, which is free and includes a reception, is sponsored by the Black Law Students Association.

An annual MLK Gospel Festival on Jan. 17 will conclude the MLK celebrations. Taking place at 6 p.m. in the Koger Center, the festival will feature the Brookland Baptist Gospel Choir and Pastor Shawn Jones and the Believers, an all-male gospel quartet from Rockford, Ala., that has performed at gospel festivals nationally since 2010. The program also will feature remarks by the Rev. Chris Leevy Johnson, a university graduate and director of Leevy’s Funeral Home.

Tickets to the MLK Gospel Festival are $10 per person and $8 for students and will be available for sale at the Koger Center box office.

For more information about UofSC’s 2016 MLK commemorative events, call 803-777-3854 and visit the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs website.

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