“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” said Ron Dickerson Sr., the first African-American head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision, quoting Romans 8:28.
Dickerson emphasized this verse on several occasions while addressing the filled-to-capacity Sorrell Chapel at the Martin Luther King Jr. ceremony on Monday, Jan. 23.
In his speech, Dickerson said he emulated Martin Luther King Jr.
“If I could be like him, (Martin Luther King Jr.), I wanted to be like him,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson also helped create the Black Coaches Association, which he said was to help get African-Americans into head coaching positions. Dickerson said he noticed that the majority of the football players were African-Americans, but there were not African-American head coaches.
“I felt like Martin Luther King Jr. from an athletic standpoint,” Dickerson said.
The majority of Dickerson’s speech was not about football, though. It was a trip through history. He brought some of his collection of black memorabilia, which he estimates is worth over $100,000, to share with the audience.
He passed slave ship shackles around so the crowd could feel them. He then described the conditions the slaves were brought over in as he held up a blueprint of the slave ship. He talked about how the slaves were stacked beside and on top of each other, and how they had to use the restroom on each other.
“It was the nastiest thing in the world,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson had a bill of sale that showed a man had sold a slave for $7, but a horse for $15.
“This gets me,” Dickerson said, pausing for a few moments. “They sold a human being for $7.”
Dickerson used these, and other items, as reminders of the past of African-Americans. He did not use the items just to emphasize the poor treatment of African-Americans, but also as a reminder of how far civil rights have come since then.
“This is what our black history is about,” Dickerson said, referencing the hardships African-Americans have faced and triumphed over. “He (Martin Luther King Jr.) took us away from this stuff.”
Dickerson’s speech focused on Romans 8:28 and remembering the historical times. He said that the Scripture served as inspiration for him through a broken leg and prostate cancer, which temporarily ended his coaching career.
As far as not forgetting the past, Dickerson told a story about how no one in his wife’s fifth-grade class knew who Rosa Parks was when Parks died.
He used this pivotal story to emphasize the importance of remembering key leaders of the past.
“Don’t let me be the only one who wants to idolize him,” Dickerson said. “Do not forget Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr.”
The Martin Luther King Jr. ceremony was organized by the Freshman Forum.
According to Freshman Forum Director Kaitlin Beyler, a sophomore biomedical sciences major from Alabaster, the planning for this event started before the 2016 fall break.
Before the event, Freshman Forum President Carter Ray, a freshman geomatics major from Troy, said he hoped this event and what Dickerson shared would provide inspiration to those in attendance.
“What we hope to do is give inspiration to people,” Ray said.
Freshman Forum Vice President and coordinator of the event, Alex Reynolds, a freshman nursing major from Dothan, said that he believed that the goal of inspiration had been achieved.
Reynolds praised not only the guest speaker, but everyone who participated in the ceremony.
“They were phenomenal,” Reynolds said. “It was a wonderful ceremony.”
Reynolds said that Alfonzo “AJ” Johnson, a freshman athletic training major from Wetumpka, was the one who recommended Dickerson as a speaker.
Johnson said that Dickerson had come to speak at his high school and left a lasting impression on him, so he recommended Dickerson when Freshman Forum presented the idea.
For Jermaine Van Buren, a freshman theater major from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the ceremony opened his eyes to past history.
“It paid a wonderful homage to Martin Luther King Jr., and was an eye-opener to forgotten black history,” said Van Buren.
Kirra Merriweather, a junior communication major from Tuscaloosa, said she enjoyed the facts Dickerson gave, and that she felt it was important to use these facts to teach the further generations.
“The event was absolutely amazing,” Merriweather said. “He really inspired all the people here.”
Dickerson had a few words of advice in an interview after the ceremony.
“Education, knowledge and understanding are the key to success,” Dickerson said. “Just keep fighting.
“You got to fight from the top, and your education will get you to the top.”