ST. PETERSBURG – For 29 years the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been honored at the annual Leadership Awards Breakfast. The historic Coliseum, located downtown at 535 4th Ave. N., was packed again this year with those wanting change and in need of an inspirational message.
Dr. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, a senior pastor with Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas was the keynote speaker who led the sermon and energized the room.
“I was told that this was the largest breakfast in the country of its kind,” complimented Haynes who admitted to a little bragging amongst his friends. “This is already on my resume,” he joked.
The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) puts on the event every year and each year it draws the who’s who from Tampa Bay and around the nation. Angela Rouson, president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NCNW gave the occasion and Mayor Rick Kriseman acknowledged the council in their efforts to remind others of the meaning of the word “leadership,” which was exactly the message that Haynes kept bringing back to the table.
“Today I’d like to talk about ‘it’s your turn,’” said Haynes who felt obliged to recount an experience he had while watching Selma, a recently released film depicting Martin Luther’s King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights, at his local theater.
Haynes described a situation where he watched as two brothers sat nearby. The older one trying to educate his younger sibling on the topic of civil rights only to have him fall asleep during the movie time and time again.
“I hope you realize that this has nothing to do with missing the movie,” explained Haynes who admired the brother who attempted to school his younger brother in black history and to repeatedly wake him up. “But everything to do with missing the meaning, the message, the legacy and the lesson from what took place in Selma, Ala., 50 years ago.”
Haynes spotlighted the need for everyone in the community to have a voice and to sing it loud because he feels there is still a need for a revolution.
“We need to wake up to a criminal justice system that is criminal and unjust,” he said while highlighting that our nation leads the world in prison population even though according to the pastor we don’t have a crime rate that reflects the amount of jailed men and women. He believes our prison system has become overrun with individuals who are afflicted with an addiction and that the war on drugs has now become a war on the poor.
“I hope we gathered here because we don’t want to sleep through a revolution,” Haynes said. “We want to wake up because prison has become a consequence of black and brown bodies.”
Awards were presented to distinguished members of the community for their leadership skills and determination to make a difference. Former mayor and current president of the Edwards Group, Rick Baker, conferred upon Gwen Reese the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award for her untiring service to the community.
“You see her everywhere,” said Baker who believes those who give of themselves selflessly need to be recognized for the work they do. “It’s so important for us to be continually reminded of the importance of the life and legacy of Dr. King.”
Reese was chosen because she made a personal commitment to serve humanity and promote the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King and his legacy. Reese serves as president of the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg and is co-facilitator of the Agenda 2010 and Beyond Initiative, as well as, lead planner of the Heritage Trail that was finished just last year. By generously giving her time in order to work with others, Reese has proven she is a local hero.
“I truly believe that each of us is born with a unique song in our hearts,” said Reese who hopes the song of love, compassion and service will become a song of oneness. “Sing your song with all your heart.”
Channel 10 news anchor Reginald Roundtree, who was blown away by the intensity and honesty of Haynes’ speech, presented the Humanitarian Award to recently retired news anchor and Tampa Bay icon John Wilson, who just happened to be the master of ceremony for the breakfast.
“His morals run very deep,” said Roundtree. “He has reached out at events, touched people’s lives and has given us not only information, but also thought.”
The morning continued with various students receiving awards for their determined service of giving back to their communities. Educational incentive awards were handed out to Kayla Crawford of Lakewood High School and Keymaira Pinkney of Gibbs High School.
Crawford is a member of the NCNW youth group and a volunteer at All Children’s Hospital; Pinkney will earn her associates in arts degree from St. Petersburg College when she graduates from Gibbs as part of a dual enrollment program. She is a member of the National Honor Society and aspires to be a pediatrician.
Rajae White of Gibbs received the Carol Walker Youth Award for his extensive extracurricular activities. He works as a youth leader in his church and plans to major in architectural engineering in college.
The Brittany Gordon Award was presented in honor of Gordon who gave her life for her country when a suicide bomber attacked her unit in Afghanistan. The award is sponsored by the Gordon and Rouson families and was given to James Chaney, a student at Lakewood High School. Chaney emulated Gordon’s spirit for helping others with his efforts to educate youths and adults so that they may earn their GED’s. He has a 3.94 grade point average and is anxiously awaiting word on acceptance to the Air Force Academy.
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Awards Breakfast came to a close with Reverend Louis Murphy of Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church receiving the Faith-Based Award for his work with the church.
The audience sang “We Shall Overcome” in hopes that 2015 will bring talk of all races and communities coming together to carry the torch of change and progress.