When Weslyn "Lady Mahogany" Bowers speaks, people listen.
Her smart quips and larger-than-life personality have made her a hot commodity at the mic in her eight years as a DJ for 94.1 The Beat. But when she speaks to the kids whose book bags she fills with food every Friday, they listen, because her story is their own.
Blessings in a Book Bag, which she started three years ago, serves children who qualify for the federal reduced price meal program by packing their bags with easy-to-prepare, non-perishable foods. The goods sustain them and their families over the weekend, so that on Monday morning, students can return to school nourished and ready to learn.
In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, Lady Mahogany will host a 5K from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. Jan. 18 in Forsyth Park. In addition to the 5K run, the MLK 5K and Festival includes a 1-mile walk and an informational health fair featuring physical activities, nutritional information seminars, healthy food samples with live demonstrations and recreational activities.
Participants will also groove to live entertainment from a host of bands, including locals A Nickel Bag of Funk, Infallible Funk from Atlanta and solo artists such as "American Idol" runner-up Saeed Edwards. This is the first year of the events, but they will occur annually as part of the city of Savannah's MLK Day celebration. One-hundred percent of the proceeds from the day will support the kids and families in the program.
King's legacy is well-represented by the organization, which feeds more than 50 kids at Otis Brock Elementary.
It was called Bartow Elementary when a hungry young Bowers would sneak into the health office every day.
"I went to get an apple or sandwich," Bowers said.
"Whatever the nurse was able to pack extra for me, because she knew my situation at home."
Bowers is driven by the knowledge that she's living proof to these kids; proof that you can make it through to the other side with a few caring mentors.
"These kids can't touch a BeyoncÃ© or a Madonna, but they talk to me every week and I can tell them truthfully that I was once in their shoes," she said.
Blessings in a Book Bag takes a completely individualized approach, because Bowers is so personally invested in the wellbeing of her kids and their families. It's as personal as a mother calling her to ask for eggs, milk and bread for her children's breakfast, and Bowers opening up her own pantry to grab it.
Meanwhile, she assesses the whole problem and helps in ways that may last longer than a box of cereal.
"When I hear a parent has lost his or her job, I don't just say, 'Oh that's too bad ... What food do you need?" Bowers said. "I ask, 'What food do you need?' and then I ask if they've been to the library yet to scout for jobs, and I'll make a call to my friend so-and-so to see if she's hiring."
Bowers is also a certified personal trainer and professional dancer who preaches the benefits of physical fitness.
She hopes this event will foster healthy habits, particularly as a means to combat the escalation of diabetes and hypertension.
The run/walk and festival, she explains, is a community event that anyone can take part in, regardless of age, race or background.
She's also eager to give her aspiring young dancers and performers a shot at the coveted Forsyth Park stage.
"My kids tell me, 'Thank you,' all the time," she said, a little choked up. "When they do I say, 'No, thank you.'
"They don't understand, but they mean everything to me. They're the ones who give me hope, and they keep me grounded and focused. We need to make kids feel important, because they are," she said.
"When I see my kids, I tell them, 'You're the best thing that's ever happened to me, kiddo. And don't you ever forget it.'"