With less than a few hours’ notice, the Rev. James McCarroll delivered a powerful message to several hundred people attending the 24th annual Unity Luncheon Thursday, Feb. 20, at MTSU. McCarroll’s 15-minute talk, titled “The Call to Come-Unity,” shared how the local “community” can come together in unity and harmony.
“Where There is Unity, There is Strength” was the theme of the 2020 Unity Luncheon, held in the Student Union Ballroom. The Unity Luncheon honors African American “unsung heroes” who have devoted their lives to serving the Middle Tennessee community.
Yanika “Nikki” Smith-Bartley, vice president and special counsel at Nashville-based Asurion LLC, was to bring the keynote address. However, illness prevented her from attending, so McCarroll, pastor of First Baptist Church on East Castle Street in Murfreesboro, answered the call.
“Equality only happens when we are willing to trade our present version of divisive community for a true and authentic space in which every participant is committed to heeding the call of come-unity,” McCarroll said.
“So how do we come to a solution that will move us from inequality to equality?” McCarroll said to the audience.
“We come to the table as equals — different positions, same power,” he added. “Make space to hear each other’s voices. Create a space where we can sit as equals.”
“We transition from focusing on our subcultural agendas to surrendering to the holy agenda of God’s version of community. All are subjected to the truth of God’s sovereignty and not any single group’s supremacy. (And) hear and adopt the prophetic call to new community.”
Joining 121 previous Unity Luncheon honorees, this year’s group included:
• Contribution to Black Arts: Phyllis Adams, Motlow State Community College speech and theatre professor
• Excellence in Sports: MTSU football “Mod Squad” members Edmond Miller and Raymond Bonner
• Advocate of Civility: Marcus S. Lucas Sr., retired human resources manager
• Community Service: Robbie Snapp, MTSU administrator and community volunteer
• Education: Leonora “Ms. Boe” Washington (posthumous), longtime Rutherford County Schools educator (Cousin Valerie Whitlow accepted on her behalf.)
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee welcomed the honorees and attendees, saying “it is an opportunity for the university to show appreciation to individuals, who, typically, don’t receive attention and making a significant difference in the lives of people in this community.”
Speaking on Bartley’s behalf, MTSU alumna Melinda Hudgins Noblitt (Class of 2007/College of Media and Entertainment) with Asurion, which has 19,000 employees, shared how “diversity and inclusion sets us apart from others.” Asurion and MTSU are partners in a corporate engagement program.
Entertainment was provided by the Ashley Kimbrough Trio, a jazz group. Kimbrough is adjunct faculty member in the MTSU School of Music.