Pendulum is swinging, Espy says at Clay event

Mike Espy, right, salutes the crowd after receiving an honor from Rev. Orlando Richmond.
Steve Rogers
Staff Writer

The pendulum of justice, fairness and equality constantly is swinging. But every time it swings back to the right, it swings a little further to the good. And every time it swings back the other way, a swings a little less toward the bad.

And as some historians have said, the nation is moving toward a “third Reconstruction,” a period of major movement toward social equality. An although it will include pitfalls, those who support and benefit from it should not despair at those moments but instead should be encouraged, one of Mississippi’s most prominent politicians said Saturday night, noting the pendulum is swinging in “a positive direction.”

“We are moving forward,” former Congressman and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy told more than 400 people at the annual Northside Christian Church African-American History celebration.
In addition to a keynote address from Espy, the event recognized retired Chancery Court Judge Dorothy Colom and West Point High School Principal Kendall Pickens with “Difference Maker” Awards.
Linking his speech to the Black History Month theme, Espy tied history to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, encouraging the crowd to continue to look forward.

He noted that in November, he received more votes — 420,816 — than any African-American candidate for statewide office in Mississippi history. That was less than 4 percent — 35,000 votes — from winning the U.S. Senate seat. He won Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties, he noted.

And rather than being disheartened, people of all races should see the progress that is being made, he said, encouraging the crowd to continue to reach out to all voters and to talk issues such as education and health care that are the “needs of all people.”

“That’s how the pendulum will swing,” he stated.

In honoring Colom and Pickens, Orlando Richmond, the senior pastor at Northside, praised their work and pioneering in the spirit of men and women who had come generations before them.
In 1994, already a barrier-breaker by becoming an African-American woman lawyer, Colom became the first African-American to serve as Chancery Court Judge for the 14th Chancery Court District. She served 24 years until retiring at the end of last year. She now is a Senior Status Judge.

Colom received her B.A. degree in 1974 from Roanoke College in Salem, Va., majoring in political science. She then pursued her law degree at Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C., and completed her doctorate in 1978.

In 1979, she began her legal career as a staff attorney with North Mississippi Rural Legal Services (NMRLS). In 1980, she and her law partner started the Colom and Colom law firm, where she practiced in various areas of the law for 16 years. Between the years of 1980 and 1994, she held a variety of other positions before being elected to the bench.

In addition to a long list of community and charitable organizations, she’s taught at Mississippi University for Women and since 2011, has taught modern civil rights at Mississippi State University.
By contrast, while Colom was being elected judge, Pickens, a Chickasaw County native, was carving a path for another generation.

Two years after she became a judge, Pickens was an 18-year-old senior at Houston High School. He has degrees from Mississippi State University and is enrolled Educational Leadership Doctoral program at Mississippi State University.

Like his father, maternal grandparents, and a number of family members, he has dedicated his life to public school education. Upon obtaining his undergraduate degree from Mississippi State, Kendall carried out his student teaching in the West Point School District. In the two decades since, he has positively impacted thousands of students in West Point and surrounding areas. He eventually moved into administration and for the past six years, Pickens first served as an assistant principal and then four years as an associate principal.

In July, he became the head principal of West Point High School.

“His impact on students, colleagues, and the broader community has extended beyond the classroom,” Richmond said after lauding his successful efforts to get parents more involved in the school and improving students’ communication skills.