Phillip Morton calls himself an ordinary person who just wants the best for his family and community.
He and his wife, Erin, have been married for 24 years. She teaches at Elida Elementary School and he works as a correction’s program coordinator at the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution. They have two daughters, Morgan, 21, a student at Rhodes State, and Sydney, 17, a junior at Elida.
At age 52, he also considers himself fortunate. He had wonderful parents and a basketball coach who taught him values while growing up in southern Indiana. At that time in the 1970s and ’80s, a young black man too often ended up messing with drugs and earning a ticket to prison.
“It didn’t happen. Not to me,” Morton said. “The people around me wouldn’t allow it.”
That’s never been lost on him. That’s why in his 26 years in Lima, he’s been involved with school mentoring programs, coaching junior high basketball, and working with police and other agencies to reach out to youth. It’s why he was one of three Lima residents to receive a statewide award during the 32nd annual Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Celebration on Thursday in Columbus.
“When I was coaching I found myself talking to more mothers than fathers. I was talking not only with kids who were struggling, but also families who were struggling. I was seeing kids growing up in poverty with missing family members.”
He also saw something else.
“Discipline is a key issue in reaching young men and women. Once you establish discipline, respect and unconditional love, I think you can reach kids. It goes a long way. A lot of kids just want structure. But when it’s inconsistent, when they realize I can get away with this or that, then we miss the boat.”
He sees Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a time to reflect on where we are as a community in terms of equality. Are we just putting bandages on problems or are we really seeking solutions.
“Celebrating Martin Luther King day to me is rethinking some of the goals and some of the ways we treat each other. How are we addressing discrimination and how are we improving just living together. Actions speak louder than words.”
A year ago at this time, Lima was feeling the sting of a national survey that rated it among the worst places for African-Americans to live. Morton didn’t buy it then and doesn’t believe it now, although he believes the discussions that resulted were good ones.
“Do we have issues, yes we do. Do we have an issue of kids caught in poverty and living under means, absolutely. I see so much responsibility falling on teachers and law enforcement, with a lot of good people trying their best to help. Are things getting better, it’s a challenge for all of us, not just a few.”
One of biggest challenges is in leadership, he says.
“A lot of good organizations end up becoming territorial. This is a time for open minds. Accountability becomes really important when it comes to our mayor, when it comes to our Police Department or sheriff, when it comes to the school system and citizens in our community. I think accountability comes high, especially if we want to give our kids a legacy in which they can move forward.”
ROSES AND THORNS: There’s something fishy going on in the rose garden.
Rose: To Kyle Weisenburger, of Ottawa. He’ll be living a dream as he qualified to compete in the highest levels of bass tournament fishing in 2017 — the Fishing League Worldwide tournament. He makes his FLW Tour debut Feb. 2-5 at Lake Guntersville in Guntersville, Alabama.
Rose: To Michael Mahaffey and Joshua Menke. Mahaffey was named trooper of the year for the Lima post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Menke earned similar honors for the Van Wert post.
Rose: Lima residents received three of the seven statewide awards during the 32nd annual Ohio Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Celebration on Thursday in Columbus.
•Lima City School District Superintendent Jill Ackerman received the Educational Excellence Award for her dedication to helping at-risk students graduate through various activities and adult mentors.
•Phillip Morton received the Social Justice Award. He is the past chair of the Lima affiliate of the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the administration of criminal justice.
•The Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority of Lima was chosen for the Cultural Awareness Award. During the past 26 years, its Sigma Mu Omega chapter has hosted the largest MLK breakfast in Lima with 500 to 700 attendees.
Thorn: Some $10,000 worth of damage was caused to a home at 2018 N. Metcalf St. in Lima when a dog knocked over a candle, catching the structure on fire. Lima firefighters said the home was occupied by renters.
Thorn: Cameron Holt Releford, 19, smiled and offered no apology after he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for robbing, threatening to kill, and shooting a gun toward a 16-year-old pizza delivery girl. Releford told police he was hungry.
PARTING SHOT: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” — The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.