Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum. Dr. Melvin Baker is the recipient of the I Have a Dream Award.
COVINGTON -- Dr. Melvin O'Neal Baker doesn't do his service work with a lot of fanfare. Instead, he chooses to stay behind the scenes.
But on Sunday, Baker stood in the spotlight as he received the I Have a Dream Award at the 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. The award is given annually to an individual who exemplifies the philosophy of King.
Freda Reed, who nominated Baker, called him a "quiet soldier."
"He was born in Newton County and he exemplifies the characteristics of a soldier that has worked in the battlefields for his community, church and family," Reed said.
Baker graduated from R.L. Cousins High School in 1966 and went on to graduate from Clark College in Atlanta and the Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry. He served in the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant in the Dental Corps from 1974-1976.
Baker became the first black dentist to go into private practice in Newton County in 1976, and has maintained his practice for 33 years.
Baker is the chairman of the board of directors of Washington Street Community Center and serves on the board of directors for Newton Medical Center. He is also a member of the Newton County Community Band and of the NAACP.
"He celebrates life by being involved in every aspect of the community. No matter what the cause is in the community, Dr. Melvin Baker has made it his business to support or be a part of the solution," Reed said.
Baker also serves on the Academy of General Dentistry, the American Dental Association and the Georgia Dental Association.
Baker attends St. Paul AME Church, where he is on the Steward Board, serves as Christian education director, Sunday school teacher, assistant teacher at evening Bible study, member of the male choir and chairperson of the building fund.
Baker lives in Oxford with his wife of 36 years, Gussie Griggs Baker. He has three children and five grandchildren.
"He quietly steps to the drum of Dr. King with his kind acts of reaching out to the youth as well as the adults in the community. He quietly steps to the drum by challenging our youth of today to take advantage of everything positive that is presented to them," Reed said. "He quietly steps to the drum by working toward living a life that God has asked of us. He quietly steps to the drum by being a person who does what he speaks."
Baker said all of his service to the community is an effort to achieve his goal of living a good life and helping others.
"I was surprised and honored and humbled that someone thought enough of me that I deserved that award," Baker said. "It's a confirmation that you've accomplished something in your life, that you've done some good and tried to do the right thing."