Moving Forward: The 36th Annual MLK Leadership Awards

The St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section of the National Council of Negro Women presented the 36th Annual MLK Leadership Awards event on Monday, Jan. 17. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the second year the Leadership Awards event has been on a virtual platform.


ST. PETERSBURG — The St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section of the National Council of Negro Women (SPMS-NCNW) presented the 36th Annual MLK Leadership Awards event on Jan. 17. The virtual event, hosted by author Karen Davis-Pritchett, featured empowering words and inspirational songs and interspersed throughout the program video clips of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering segments of his now-famous speeches.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the second year the Leadership Awards event has been on a virtual platform.

Following an opening prayer by Pastor Clarence Williams of the Greater Mt. Zion AME Church and a breathtaking rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” performed collectively by HBCU students from around the country, Ethel Peeples-Robinson, president of the SPMS-NCNW, said that though COVID-19 stopped many annual events in the community, “it didn’t stop NCNW from sharing and giving back to our community and our deserving eligible high school students.”

“Today, we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday,” she said, “by recognizing leaders in our community and by awarding selected local high school students with college scholarships. By doing this, we’re keeping Dr. King’s legacy alive.”

Keynote speaker Mayor Ken Welch said that the program’s “Moving Forward” theme is appropriate and providential on many levels.

“On so many aspects of our current circumstance, we have a clear choice,” he said. “We can make the intentional and often difficult choice to move forward, or, if we fail to bring focus, partnership, and urgency to the challenges before us, we will slide backward.”

Though lauding the emergence of the effective COVID-19 vaccines and the courts upholding the 2020 presidential election, “despite the insurrection at our nation’s Capitol,” he said we saw justice fail in a “barrage of voter suppression legislation” across the country — but also saw justice prevail for George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.

“Through it all, we persevere,” the mayor said. “We adapt, we uplift each other, we move forward. Here in St. Petersburg, I am optimistic about our path forward. Our city has seen tremendous growth in the last decade, bringing many new residents, businesses and new developments.”

The city’s first African-American mayor, Welch acknowledged that his election is a sign of progress but cautioned that “the real work lies ahead of us.”

“This election must be followed by impactful work on empowerment, inclusion, and equitable economic development to truly move us forward,” he said. “All of us have a responsibility and a role to play in moving us forward.”

He denounced the wave of legislative action around the country and here in Florida, making it more difficult to vote “in response to alleged voter fraud, which is, in fact, nonexistent.”

“We must fight political attempts to suppress the vote,” Welch stressed.

Concerning COVID-19, Welch admonished the attacks on science, masks, and “local governments’ ability to make decisions to protect our communities and schools” and urged everyone to follow the science to help us emerge from the pandemic. He noted that moving forward in St. Pete also means prioritizing housing affordability for all and investing in communities most impacted by poverty, inequity, and crime.

“It means upgrading our community centers with services and amenities that will uplift our residents and serve as hubs for nutrition, digital access, education, innovation, and wraparound services,” he said.

The recently released structural racism report and the disparity study both document a history of inequity in St. Pete, Welch said, but the Tropicana Field redevelopment project, the implementation of a purchasing policy to increase minority contract opportunities with the city, and the refinement of the Community Benefits Program are all “opportunities to move us forward on a path to economic development that is rooted in equity and benefits all.”

Our police department must be connected, professional and accountable, he said, but the police alone cannot solve the problems that we face in our neighborhoods, lamenting the rising gun violence and lack of respect for cultures and norms.

“Every parent and church and community organization has to be a part of making our neighborhoods safer,” Welch underscored. “It truly will take a village, and accountability is for everyone.”


The Ralph W. Young Family Foundation handed out 24 scholarship recipients worth a total of $135,000.


Gibbs High School

La’ Bron Burgees

Ary’ana Davis

Jamon Garrett

Imariyah Grant-Sloan

Cartez Rentz


Lakewood High School

Ixavier Cox

Layla Frazier

Jenesis Richardson

London Starks

De’Stiny Wise


Northeast High School

Sanai Reese

Tori Sheely


St. Pete High School

Makayla Webster


Boca Ciega High School

Janelle Brown

Ke’niya Brumadge

Camren Curry

Jeremiah Daniels

Anaya Franklin

Miguel Harrell, Jr.

Jaden King

Benjamin Lawson

JaNiya McNeil

Jasmine Oliphant

Malani Smith

Victorio Thompson


NCNW Educational Incentive Award went to Gibbs High School students Elijah Dixon and Eric Redix.

The Brittany Bria Gordon Award, given in honor of fallen soldier Brittany Gordon and funded by the Cedric Gordon family and Rouson family, goes to a student who has demonstrated exceptional community service, commitment to academic success, and leadership skills. St. Pete Catholic High’s Joshua Hughes took home this honor and will attend Hampton University, where he’ll be active as an Army ROTC cadet.

The 2022 MLK Leadership Award went to community activist and gallerist Carla Bristol for her work with St. Pete Youth Farm, an urban farm project for young people.

“It is an absolute privilege to get to touch our youth every single day and to watch them grow,” said Bristol in a video message acknowledging her award. “We say every day at the Youth Farm” ‘We’re not only grow food, we’re grow young people.'”

The MLK Humanitarian Ward went to Toriano Parker, CEO of Advantage Village Academy, an organization that strives to educate, empower, and enhance the quality of life for individuals and eradicate racial and ethical disparities.

Dr. Yvonne Williams, chair of the MLK Awards Program, acknowledged various sponsors, including Duke Energy, St. Petersburg College, St. Anthony’s BayCare, Pinellas County Housing Authority, Juvenile Welfare Board Pinellas County, and the Ralph W. Young Family Foundation.

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