MLK banquet draws hundreds

Journalist Harriet Ludwig was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Hall of Fame.

Keynote speaker and Florida State University Department of Psychology professor Na'im Akbar, right, talks with a friend while Alachua County Commissioner Rodney Long, left, looks on at the Martin Luther King banquet on Sunday.

LEE FERINDEN/Special to The Sun
Published: Monday, January 19, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 19, 2004 at 2:54 a.m.
In his work for civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr. tried to remove barriers to power, work that must continue, psychologist Na'im Akbar said in his keynote address at the Martin Luther King Jr. Hall of Fame banquet Sunday.
"We face a point in our history where there is a good possibility that we could go back beyond 1954," Akbar said. " . . . What we have to remember is that it was not that long ago when it was absolutely impossible to access these opportunities."
Expanding on a theme of "Back to Basics," Akbar, who is on the faculty at Florida State University, peppered his speech with jokes about the rivalry between FSU and the University of Florida and his own life experiences.
"I remember, before Martin, even if I could afford to stay here I couldn't stay here," said Akbar of the Paramount Resort and Conference Center, where the Sunday evening banquet took place.
More than 400 people, including Gainesville Mayor Tom Bussing, UF President Bernie Machen, and state and local officials, attended. The event, which has outgrown two hotels in its 19 years, marked the induction of journalist Harriet Ludwig into the Martin Luther King Jr. Hall of Fame.
"When you deal with controversial issues and try to speak truth to power, which is what I try to do, you get a lot of bad reactions," said Ludwig, who has written for The Gainesville Sun, Florida Times-Union, Clearwater Sun and other newspapers. "So it's nice to have someone tell you they like what you do."
Organizers also recognized the winner of the annual Edna Hart "Keeper of the Dream" scholarship. Eastside High School student Adria Kiara Green received the award, which is given each year to a high school senior.
"Back to Basics" was chosen as the theme for this year's events because "we felt like it was necessary to go back before we could go forward," said Jacquelyn Hart-Williams, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida.
Akbar called King "the greatest of American heroes" and said he fought for the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic because of the power those skills could give in obtaining an education, setting policy and gaining wealth.
"Martin Luther King believed that America could be what she promised to be," said Akbar. Other audience members nodded or voiced their agreement as Akbar spoke.
He was also critical of overreliance on academic test scores and long prison sentences given to youthful offenders.
"As long as you've got more African-American men locked up in Florida prisons than you've got in Florida universities, the next generation is not going to be any better off than this one," Akbar said.
Rachel Kipp can be reached at 374-5086 or kippr@

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