By Tonya Jackson
A life of service is a simple, but fitting way to describe the life of Rev. H. K. Matthews. While his birthday is February 7th, on Saturday, February 6th he celebrated his 88th birthday with some of the people who have meant so much to him through the years. Matthews has consistently been a man in service to his fellow man, but on this celebratory night and upon hearing the tributes and being served by others, his emotions ranged from jovial to reflective to humble. With his youngest son, Chris Matthews, seated at his right it was an opportunity for both generations of Matthews men to witness some of the love the area has for this icon.
The program included mistress of ceremony Dr. Lusharon Wiley, who wrote about Matthews for her terminal degree dissertation; selections by the Voices of Victory Radio Choir, under the direction of Pastor Tom Alexander; a solo by Michael Jackson, longtime friend who guarded Matthews life with his own on more than one occasion; a speech by David Alexander, III, Pensacola Chief of Police; a speech by Mamie Hixon, linguist and longtime friend; a solo by Pastor Larry Watson, Jr., who counts Matthews as one of his heroes; a presentation by Janice Holloway Cameron, her father was one of the Atlanta Five; a proclamation presented by Lumon May, longtime friend and Escambia County District 3 Commissioner; and Cindy Martin, a friend of Matthews who was tasked to pull the night off.
Chief Alexander challenged attendees to talk openly and honestly with the children so they can know what the civil rights movement was truly about. “Take a risk,” he stated. He further noted how Matthews, “risked everything for human dignity and human equality. He experienced not being loved, but being hated. He experienced disappointment. He lost everything because of his love of what he believed in. H. K. took action, he spoke up, he sacrificed and he fought for equal treatment.”
Mamie Hixon recounted Matthews many attributes alphabetically, including that Matthews, is “an icon, a true American icon. An American idol, before the show American Idol.”
Dr. Wiley asked, “How long? Because systemic and institutional racism persist. Targeting our black kids persists. The pipeline to prison is real. So we have to ask ourselves, ‘how long?’ and also ‘what will you do?’”
How to adequately honor a civil rights icon who has given so much of himself to others was the challenge that faced Cindy Martin as she began preparing to honor Matthews for his 88th birthday. Along the way, she assembled a supportive squad that included the New Dimension Church Event Center, Margaret Hatton and her team at Lil Touch of Elegance Design, and Joyce Couch of Couch Cookies & Catering. Martin’s labor of love was a fitting tribute to a man who has touched the lives of many.
At the end of the evening, Matthews so overcome with joy that he was almost speechless. In closing, he thanked everyone in attendance and shared his love for them. “This has been a great night. Times have been rough in this city, not just for me, but for every black person and every white person who was on the side of right. I have gone through some stuff, but I’m so glad that whatever I went through, I didn’t go through it by myself because I had God.” He concluded with the lyrics from Sam Cooke, “A Change Gonna Come,” and Rev. Paul Jones, “I Won’t Complain.”