NCNW’s 35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Awards Breakfast

The St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section of the National Council of Negro Women’s 35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Awards Breakfast was held virtually on Monday, Jan. 18. It is known to be one of the largest breakfast gatherings in the U.S. to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — The pandemic did not deter Tampa Bay from celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The MLK Dream Big Parade, banquets, candlelight vigils and other ceremonies were moved to digitals platform, including the St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section of the National Council of Negro Women’s 35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Awards Breakfast.

“Armed officers, emboldened citizens armed with guns, bats and ropes, mounted horses and spewing of vile things did not stop Dr. King,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Rene Flowers, a NCNW member who served as the mistress of ceremony, “so COVID-19 will not stop us from moving forward with a time-honored tradition.”

Amidst the challenges of the virus and issues of racial justice and violence toward people of color continuing unresolved, Mayor Rick Kriseman urged St. Pete to remain hopeful.

“Dr. King spoke of a mountain of despair, but he also spoke of hope,” the mayor said. “This is St. Pete. We know a thing or two about hope, about the rays of sunshine breaking through a cloudy day.”

Dr. Johnnetta Cole, president-chair of the national NCNW, acknowledged that the African-American community had been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“And today, there are untold examples of an existence of a plague that has victimized us for 401 years,” she noted. “It is called systemic racism.”

Cole urged everyone to keep the faith and quoted Dr. King by saying, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” She assured everyone gathered for the virtual breakfast that the more than two million Black women of the NCNW will “stay in this struggle as well.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Tonjua Williams, president of St. Petersburg College, noted that 57 years ago, on the Lincoln Memorial steps, Dr. King emphasized the fierce urgency of “now” in his famed “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Now is the time to make good on the promises of democracy, eliminate racial justice disparities and stand up for the unity and brotherhood that we can all enjoy,” she paraphrased, underscoring that the message is just as relevant today as it was in 1963.

We see the urgency of “now” through various individuals’ actions throughout history, Williams said, including Harriet Tubman, little Ruby Bridges, Thurgood Marshall, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the late John Lewis, among thousands of others.

“They understood the value of ‘now,’ she said. “They were bold, tenacious and refused to lose. That fire in the bottom of their bellies spewed extraordinary courage, intentional action, and a desire for change that no one could break. Let’s stay on course and continue to progress forward because we have not arrived.”

Williams implored everyone to always exercise their right to vote in local, state or national elections and get involved in reforming systems to secure the promise of democracy. Amidst the larger-than-life pandemic, racial injustice, the murder of George Floyd and expanded economic disparities, Williams warned everyone not to be complacent with “temporary expressions of outrage and roundtable discussions about system flaws.”

“America must stand up for the disenfranchised and justly punish the offenders,” she said. “We must break down barriers in our education systems and hold organizations accountable for how people are perceived, recognized, regarded and treated.”

Even with the very real disparities in education, housing and employment, Williams urged harmony, saying, “We must all come together. We need each other. With all of our flaws, differences, pains and hurt, at the end of the day, we are all a part of one race — the human race. We need our brothers and sisters from all races, cultures, religions and communities to come together.”

The morning continued with the awards presentation to community leaders who have made an extraordinary personal commitment to serve humanity.

The 2021 Leadership Award went to Rev. J.C. Prichett, who has been involved in civic engagement and community empowerment throughout his life. A pastor of Faith Church in St. Pete, he has organized nationally for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and served as youth director and vice president in the National Capital Baptist Convention. In 2018, Pritchett was elected president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of St. Petersburg.

Samantha Richardson-Hardy, who received the Humanitarian Award, has been a faculty member at the graduate level for over 20 years. In addition to her love of teaching, Richardson-Hardy is a jazz enthusiast and has written for several jazz magazines, interviewing such illustrious artists as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck and countless others. No stranger to community service, she is also the founder and president of the civic organization The Gathering of Women, Inc.

Students receiving the Guilford-Robinson Educational Incentive Award:

  • Ja’Kaylah Danford, St. Petersburg High
  • Kay Julien, St. Petersburg High
  • Dante Mells, St. Petersburg High
  • Nina Jenkins, The Boca Ciega High

Students receiving the Ralph W. Young Family Foundation Award:

  • Michael Barfield, Jr., St. Petersburg High
  • Kendrick Gordon, St. Petersburg High
  • Kira Butler, The Boca Ciega High
  • Chessidy Lester, The Boca Ciega High
  • Taffrey Peterman, The Boca Ciega High
  • Sy’ria White, The Boca Ciega High
  • Kyanna Thomas, Gibbs High
  • Andra’ Walters, Jr., Lakewood High

The Brittany Bria Gordon Award, named in honor of a native St. Pete servicewoman killed in Afghanistan in 2012 during Operation Enduring Freedom, is given to a graduating Pinellas senior who demonstrates the “qualities and values by which Brittany lived her life.” This year’s award, sponsored by the Darryl Rouson family and Gordon’s father, the retired Assistant Police Chief Cedric Gordon, will be awarded at a later date.

Rev. Dr. John A. Evans Sr., senior pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, closed out the Jan. 18 program with the benediction. Ethel Peeples Robinson is the current president of the St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section of the National Council of Negro Women, Inc.

To reach Frank Drouzas, email fdrouzas@theweeklychallenger.com

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