Albany, GA – Albany lived the dream on Martin Luther King Jr. Day as the community came together for the annual MLK Dinner, newly re-imagined and hosted in partnership for the first time by the Albany Area Chamber Foundation, Albany State University and the King Day Celebration Committee.
A much-loved and widely attended event in the Albany community for more than 25 years, this year’s program featured a diverse collaboration of partners with modern and fresh formatting.
The 2023 event featured keynote speaker Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T Southeast Coastal States, recently named as one of GeorgiaTrend magazine’s “100 Most Influential Georgians.”
Harrison participated in a fireside chat-style discussion with Albany State University President Dr. Marion Fedrick and recapped her personal experience working her way up the corporate ladder in the telecommunications industry, a sector that she said didn’t always reflect favorable chances of success for those of her demographic as a woman of color.
“Growing up as one of 10 in low-income housing headed by a single mother, we had no idea it was a negative thing to be considered ‘at-risk’,” explained Harrison in her discussion with Fedrick, co-chair of the King Day Celebration Committee. “We always knew we were going to do something great when we grew up, because my mother would always tell us we were ‘at-risk’ of doing great things.”
Harrison began her telecommunications career three decades ago as a telephone operator. She subsequently pursued a career-development opportunity in the network organization, quickly rising through the ranks of management within AT&T with increasing responsibility in the network, business, regulatory and external affairs departments. Prior to her current position, Harrison served for three years as president of AT&T Georgia and six years as president of AT&T North Carolina.
Dr. Fedrick noted Harrison’s story as an inspiration to ASU students, some of which were in attendance at the celebration.
The event, back for the first time since a COVID-induced hiatus, was presented by Colony Bank and further supported by corporate table sponsors Albany Community Together, AT&T, City of Albany, Dougherty County Board of Education, Dougherty County Commission, Food Lion, Georgia CEO and The UPS Store, Horizons Community Solutions, Leadership Albany, Phoebe Putney Health System, Piggly Wiggly – Food for Less and The Church of Christ, among many other attendants from businesses and organizations throughout the community.
In addition to a postponement of the event, the pandemic also disrupted the King Day Celebration Committee with the loss of committee member Femi Anderson, who was the driving force behind the “Children of the Dream” art competition, typically on display at the MLK Dinner in years past.
King Day Celebration Committee Chair Matt Reed announced the 2023 continuation of the art competition, newly titled in honor of Anderson’s memory as the “Femi Anderson Children of the Dream Art Competition”.
Reed also serves as co-chair of the Albany Area Chamber Foundation and delivered remarks on behalf of the organization.
“In the true spirit of unity and brotherhood, the planning and development of this program has been a team effort, and one that has made me proud to call Albany home,” said Reed. “As chair of the Albany Area Chamber Foundation, the 501c3 affiliate of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, we are here to support Albany in any way we can, with the MLK Dinner as a perfect example of our mission to move Albany forward through strategic partnerships and initiatives.”
In 2022, the Albany Area Chamber stood up the community’s first business-lead focus group on diversity, equity and inclusion through its new DE&I division which increases economic opportunities for businesses and people and engages more members of the citizenry into the work force.
Leading the Chamber’s initiative to expand access to opportunity and inclusivity across the community is Jeretha Peters, branch manager and first vice president of investments at WellsFargo Advisors, who serves as chair of the organization’s DE&I committee.
“The Albany Area Chamber and its foundation, through the DE&I committee, is leading the effort to manifest Dr. King’s dream of a truly inclusive and unified Albany. We believe communities and businesses are more effective, innovative and successful when all people feel welcome to contribute, and believe in their ability to effect change,” said Peters.
The partners plan to bring the MLK Dinner back in January 2024.