Ratliff Center opens doors to community

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 19, 2005

DEMOPOLIS-Friday morning the excitement surrounding the Theo Ratliff Activity Center was finally unleashed in grand fashion as the center held its grand opening. Students, citizen’s community leaders and anyone else who could find a seat all came together to give the center the ceremony it deserved.

Several community and national leaders were on hand for the grand opening, but Demopolis Parks and Recreation Director Mark Pettus said there was no doubt as to who the guest of honor was.

“Theo is the man of the hour,” Pettus said. “He has not forgotten his roots and he has a heart as big as this gym.”

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Demopolis Mayor Cecil P. Williamson said the center was yet another example of the spirit of the people of Demopolis.

“Since I have become mayor one of the words that I have heard that best describes Demopolis, the word that separates Demopolis from any other community in the Black Belt, is generous,” Williamson said. “That has definitely been demonstrated by this young man today and his entire family.”

Williamson said the people in this city have always been more than willing to give of themselves. She said Friday was just another celebration of this.

“Demopolis is known by its generosity,” Williamson said. “I have cold chills standing here because this is a monument that best describes how Demopolis is so generous. We open up our hearts, we open up our homes, and we open up our pocket books. We are a generous community.”

Williamson also praised Ratliff for his willingness to come home and make a difference.

“This young man has definitely opened up his heart and his pocketbook to give back to Demopolis,” Williamson said. “He is an embodiment of the word generous and we wholeheartedly thank him. It is Theo’s day and we can’t begin to thank him for being the role model he has been for us young and old.”

The audience was also treated to another unexpected guest in Martin Luther King III. King said it was an honor to make his first trip to Demopolis to see a hometown hero make a difference.

“A young man who comes from this community chose to come home and begin a project,” King said. “He has given something back to his community and that is a tribute to how he was raised by his mom, his grandmother and his uncles and all the support systems that said home is important.”

King said everyone should remember what the center represents.

“It is important for you to not just realize who Theo Ratliff is,” King said. “But to understand that there is nothing more important than giving back to our communities to nourish our growth and development. ”

Everyone agreed the opening of the center would have a positive impact. King said the new building was something the community could rally around and grow.

“This is very positive what is happening today,” King said. “This is a wonderful occasion because this is something that you as young people can grow from. I hope young people will take advantage of this because one of you could grow up to be an athlete, an entertainer, a lawyer or a successful businessperson.”

King told the young people in attendance the sky was the limit as long as they stay focused on their dreams.

“You can be anything you want to,” King said. “Al you have to do is put your mind to it and you can achieve anything you want to.”

Friday was just a glimpse of more big things to come at the center. Pettus said they were very pleased with the building, but planned to add more and more as time went by.s

“This is not a finished product,” Pettus said. “This is a great place and a beautiful facility, but it is no where near what we envision for some day. This is a work in progress. It is in the first phase and we plan on many, many more phases. We have big dreams and we have a great start.”