Assistant Professor of Theology and African American Religion at Yale University Divinity School Rev. Dr. Eboni Marshall-Turman headlined the 34 th annual MLK Leadership Awards Breakfast on Monday at the historic Coliseum.
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) held their 34 annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Awards Breakfast Monday, Jan 20 at the historic Coliseum.
In welcoming the more than 1,000 attendees, Mayor Rick Kriseman said his administration has “created a vision of a city of opportunity where the sun shines on all who come to live, work and play.”
He went on to say that addressing systemic failures starts with opening doors of opportunity for all, and this effort will “help rectify some of those transgressions.” Kriseman acknowledged there is much more work to do going forward, “but it starts with a bold vision.”
The leadership breakfast is the first stop for many on the King Holiday. Day of Service projects took place all around the city later that day, but Kriseman asked the audience to look beyond the holiday. Look for those who need help throughout the year, such as an elderly neighbor, a child needing guidance or an empty pantry.
“I want you to serve. Serve in the name of Dr. King; served in the name of your city of opportunity, serve in the name of kindness, compassion and empathy.”
Thelma Bruce, president of the Metropolitan Section of NCNW, echoed Mayor Kriseman, saying she hopes the remembrance of Dr. King will be a catalyst to stir people into the action of service.
Local historian, columnist, and president of the St. Petersburg African American Heritage Association Gwendolyn Reese took over the reins as mistress of ceremony. She weaved historical factoids and personal experience throughout the morning, which helped the program transition effortlessly.
“I truly wish that you could see what I see when I look out in this room. Not that many years ago, I would not have had the same picture I have today. Not that many years ago, black people could not come to the Coliseum, but thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King, his work, his life, we are now sitting here together.”
Keynote speaker Assistant Professor of Theology and African American Religion at Yale University Divinity School Rev. Dr. Eboni Marshall-Turman noted how tenuous black lives are in a country that values them so little.
She said as we celebrate the life and love of Dr. King, we have to remember that the same logic of white supremacists and Christian nationalism that shot him “down like a dog on a Memphis balcony” is still in existence today.
Marshall-Turman recited stark statics that proves America still has, what the 1903 book of essays by prominent black writers called, “A Negro Problem.”
For instance, one-third of American children live in poverty, and although African Americans constitute roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, 40 percent of those children living in poverty are black.
She said our children are threaten by educational apartheid in the year 2020 that nullifies Brown v. Board of Education when “white flight and the privatization of American education – much like the privatization of the prison industrial complex – have left poor children who are disproportionately black and brown in separate and unequal educational facilities” that are overtasked, understaffed and underfunded.
Those same overtasked, understaffed, and underfunded schools are targets for the school-to-prison pipeline that uses their data to project how many prison beds they’ll need in the future.
Statics prove that African Americans do not commit the most crimes, take or sell the most drugs, sell the most guns, and are not the most violent offenders. Yet, black people are over-represented in America’s prison system.
Marshall-Turman asked if anyone has read the U.S. Constitution, where it says slavery has been abolished except for reason of punishment for a crime.
“The fact of the matter is that there are more black people in jail today than were enslaved in the 1860s,” she said.
She listed a number of young black men and women who are now household names because of the way they were killed such as 17-year-old Trayvon Martin for walking home from the store, 17-year-old Jordan Davis for listening to music in his car, 19-year-old Renisha McBride for seeking help after a car accident and Eric Garner for being asphyxiated while being arrested for apparently no reason.
Marshall-Turman likened those modern deaths to the 1955 slaying of 14-year-old Emmett Till for looking a white woman in the face; the three young girls killed in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Jimmie Lee Jackson for attending a peaceful voting rights march and “thousands of unnamed negroes lynched from the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters.”
“When you compound the realities of our time…our children are hungry, when they go to unequal schools, they have been targeted by the evil machination of a prison industrial complex that has already incarcerated many of their loved ones, while living in a community where black lives do not matter,” Marshall-Turman preached.
The morning continued with the awards presentation to community leaders who have made an extraordinary personal commitment to serve humanity.
Sickle Cell Disease Association of America/ St. Petersburg Chapter
Founder, President & CEO
Rev. Watson Haynes
Pinellas County Urban League
President & CEO
NCNW Guilford/Robinson Scholarship Award
Ralph W. Young Family Foundation Scholarship Award
The Brittany Bria Gordon Excellence in Achievement Award