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MLK Unity Day speaker Orentha “O.J.” Holloway (left) thanked his wife Aretha (right) for her support over lots of ups and downs before getting a job with the U.S. Secret Service. “She’s always by my side with an open heart and the most helpful words to calm every stormy situation,” he said. --Wayne Clark

Secret service agent speaks at MLK unity breakfast

LaFAYETTE — “Grow up” was a message brought by Unity Day speaker Orentha “O.J.” Holloway Monday morning at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church. At estimated 275 people present filled to capacity the church’s family life center to hear a native son who’s made good return home and talk about what he’s learned.

A native of LaFayette, Holloway is a 1991 graduate of LaFayette High School and a former sergeant with the LaGrange Police Department. He’s presently a commissioned agent with the U.S. Secret Service and has been on details protecting President Barack Obama, Vice President Mike Pence and former President George H.W. Bush. He talked at length about overcoming a fear of failure to earn a position with the Secret Service and to do something his parents and grandparents could not imagine: being able to protect the first African-American president.

For Holloway, being where he is today was a matter of having the courage to grow up and seeking the high goal of being in the Secret Service.

As a police officer, Holloway said he saw a need for people to grow up and stop behaving like children. He mentioned one situation in particular when he was working in LaGrange. He went to someone’s house to answer a complaint and found the source of the problem to be that the caller didn’t like it that construction workers leaving the house next door had left mud in the street.

“That’s against a city ordinance, and I want them fined,” he told him.

The complainant wanted the officer to go next door, ring the door bell and write the home owner a ticket.

He later found that the man was angry because he and his wife had wanted to purchase that home but couldn’t qualify for a loan. They had to settle for the house next door instead and were unhappy with what they got. The angry man made no effort to get to know his neighbor. Had he done so he would have found out that he was a realtor and could have helped him find better housing had he built a relationship with him.

“He needed to grow up,” he said.

Holloway said he had taken to heart the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote of putting away childish things when they became a man.

Becoming a Secret Service officer, he said, was a matter of him finding the courage to grow up. While serving as a police officer, he came across an application to work for the Secret Service. He filled it out and put it in a sealed envelope. He stayed on a desk in his home for an extended period before he found the courage to put it in his car. It stayed there for some time until he found the courage to go to the Post Office. He said the fear of failure had stopped him. It had happened to him in the past, and he didn’t know if he could deal with it again.

Finally came the day when he made up his mind he was going to mail that letter. Still, he remained in the car only ten feet away from being able to drop it in the mail, and it remained a tough thing to overcome.

After some long hesitancy, he got out of the car with the letter and dropped it in the box.

That was in 2007. Then came a long period of not hearing whether he’d been selected or not.

Two things happened in November 2008. Obama was elected president of the U.S. and O.J. Holloway got a letter in the mail telling him he’d been chosen for the Secret Service.

“I am so pleased to have grown up and found the courage to mail that letter,” he said. “I am grateful for my parents and my grandparents. They had no chance to protect the first African American president, but I did. I have had the opportunity to travel to three continents to protect Barack Obama and his family, Bush 41 and Vice President Mike Pence. If I hadn’t mailed that letter I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be a Secret Service agent.”

Holloway said he considers himself fortunate to have the position he has and takes pride in doing that job the best he can. It’s an important job but does not identify the person he is.

“Being a Secret Service agent is not who I am; it’s what I do,” he said.

As this year’s Unity Breakfast speaker, Holloway said he believed very much in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings about equality and unity among people.

“I am proud to be a man who was born south of the Mason-Dixon line who does not have a problem with a man born south of the border,” he said. “I obey my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with all my heart but that does not stop me from putting my arms around a man from another faith.”

Holloway said that Paul was exactly right when he talked about putting away childish things when one becomes a man.

“We have to grow up, people,” he said. “It’s not right for people to think that ‘If I can’t have what I want, I will keep them from having what they want.’ A lot of serious problems start with childish stuff. We have to grow up.”

Holloway said that people need to watch what they read or listen to – it can divide you from others and can lead to false beliefs.

“Just because someone says something doesn’t make it the absolute truth,” he said. “Just because you listen to something morning, noon and night doesn’t make it true. If you are not careful you can form opinions about people you don’t know and will never come in contact with. There are those who think everyone who speaks Spanish is an illegal alien, that all Muslims are evil, that all people of the LGBQ community are evil and that all white police officers are bad. People, let’s grow up. … There are people on social media who say that it’s okay to be violent with certain types of people. This is not good and is not what Dr. King’s legacy is all about.”

Holloway said that many times there’s just one person standing between you and what you are capable of becoming. It’s that man in the mirror who is looking back at you.

“There’s always a point in everyone’s life when we have to take ownership of our own faults,” he said.

Growing up, he said, can be something so simple as being big enough to admit you are sorry, to get on the phone to apologize to someone; other times it’s being big enough to pick up that phone and listen. Someone may be trying to say ‘I’m sorry’ to you, and you shouldn’t let your pride let that phone keep on ringing.

The Unity Breakfast is annually sponsored by the Lambda Zeta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Chapter President Mrs. Bessie Jackson presided over the program. Local cities presented plaques and proclamations in celebration of the local chapter’s work and Dr. King’s legacy. The large congregation present sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to open the program and “We Shall Overcome” to close it. Mrs. Catherine Hughley sang one of Dr. King’s favorite songs, “If I Can Help Somebody” and Cantrease Nelson read passages from Dr. King’s final sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in February 1968. Marcus Curry did a youthful tribute encouraging people to keep moving forward as others try to bring you down.