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Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
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‘Education is the key to equality, respect’
Educator is keynote speaker at MLK Breakfast
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Staff Photo by Stacey Hairston: Rev. Joan Tarpley-Robinson (center) of Rosebud Baptist Church in Chatham was the keynote speaker for the 12th annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast Monday morning. After Tarpley-Robinson addressed the crowd, the MLK Breakfast Club presented Darlene Swain (left) and William O. Helm Jr. with awards for community service and leadership.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Rev. Joan Tarpley-Robinson remembers attending public schools in segregated Pittsylvania County back in 1957 and having to walk a mile to school.

"I remember the buses passing me by as I walked," she said, "and I wondered why."

Tarpley-Robinson, pastor of Rosebud Baptist Church in Chatham, was the keynote speaker Monday morning at the 12th annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast at the Pigg River Community Center.

She said she is grateful for one of the elders in her community all those years ago, who picked her up in the rain one morning as she walked to school and encouraged her, along with a group of other kids walking to school, to keep looking up and to keep looking forward.

"These are some challenging times in the school system," said Tarpley-Robinson. "I've seen some dark days in the past few years, but we will move forward and we'll do it with education."

The theme of Monday morning's breakfast, which was sponsored by the MLK Breakfast Club, was "Moving Forward with Education."

Tarpley-Robinson addressed the pressing issues of safety in schools, bullying and the rising drop-out rate. "We need to respect one another and not stand for bullying," said Tarpley-Robinson. "There is much work to do, and we must continue to help people stay in school."

She went on to label all citizens of a community as "tutors."

"We must encourage our kids, students and teachers," she said. "The solution to our problems sometimes lies within the problem."

She also spoke about the importance of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program in every school system.

"We must educate every child in our nation," said Tarpley-Robinson. "Through education, we can give the underserved and underprivileged in our community the ability to serve. That was Martin Luther King's dream and we must keep it alive."

We celebrate a great moment today in this nation, but it took everyone working together, she said.

Tarpley-Robinson challenged attendees to repeat and re-read King's speeches.

"Dr. King said we cannot drink from the cup of bitterness," she said. "Today, we sit across the table from our brothers and sisters."

Tarpley-Robinson of Pittsylvania County is a retired educator and professor emeritus of Danville Community College, where she taught math for 31 years. She has also taught in Prince Edward and Pittsylvania counties.

She is a graduate of Tunstall High School in Dry Fork. She has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Saint Paul's College and a master's degree from the University of Virginia. Her post-graduate work was done at the University of Virginia and Appalachian State University.

She serves on numerous boards and is a member of several community organizations.

Tarpley-Robinson has written and performs a one-woman play entitled "From Slavery to Freedom." The play depicts the history of her family and details the struggles they encountered from their arrival from Africa to the present day of freedom in America.

She has performed the play in different states, churches and educational settings.

Tarpley-Robinson is the widow of the late Willie Paul Robinson Jr. She has one daughter and two stepchildren.

Welcoming remarks for the breakfast were given by Peter Heck, a sixth-grader at Benjamin Franklin Middle School and son of Rev. John Heck and Delia Heck.

Rev. Roy Gunn, pastor of Rock Ridge Baptist Church, blessed the food.

Following the breakfast, Miss Pigg River Amiya Saunders introduced the keynote speaker, and music was provided by Julia Parks, Florella Johnson and the Ministers' Wives of the Pigg River Baptist Association.

Johnson also recognized and thanked local officials, community leaders and educators for their attendance.

Awards were presented to Darlene Swain and William O. Helm Jr.

Swain was recognized for spearheading of the annual Warren Street Festival, and Helm was recognized for serving 32 years on the Franklin County School Board.

Closing remarks were given by Brenda Muse, principal of BFMS and mistress of ceremonies for the breakfast.

Rev. Eddie Hawks, pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church, gave the benediction.

Proceeds from last year's breakfast were shared by Helping Hands and the Free Clinic of Franklin County.

Recipients of this year's proceeds will be announced at a later date.

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