Empowerment, education stressed at MLK banquet

Bonita Parker, CEO of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, addresses members of the Gainesville community as the keynote speaker Sunday during the Martin Luther King Jr. Hall of Fame banquet at the Paramount Hotel

AARON DAYE/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 16, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 16, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
A colleague of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in town to headline an event recognizing local "keepers of the dream" urged those in attendance to empower themselves and their children based on the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Take your children to school on the first day of school, so they will know you are serious about their education," said Bonita Parker, chief executive officer and national director of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition in Chicago.
"Exchange phone numbers with teachers, principals and even janitors. My daughter knows that if she just winks an eye wrong, I will descend on her school like that," she raised her right hand in the air, then slammed it on the podium to demonstrate how quickly she would arrive at her daughter's school.
"Education is the fundamental way to prevent incarceration," Parker said.
More than 400 local leaders, activists and residents packed a ballroom Sunday night at the Paramount Resort and Conference Center to hear Parker and honor Jackie Hart-Williams, who was presented with the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida's Hall of Fame Award for 2006.
"We are in the midst of an educational crisis right now," Parker said. "First-class schools are being replaced by first-class jails."
Parker told the packed crowd that underachieving third-graders are getting prison cells built for them right now.
She went on to say that in 2000, there were 792,000 black males in prison, compared to 600,000 in institutions of higher education.
"You all didn't hear me," she shouted to the audience. "There are 200,000 more black men in prison than there are in college."
She also said that America makes up 5 percent of the global population, but 25 percent of the global prison population.
Parker told the audience that the prison industrial complex is the second-largest employer in the nation.
"Only General Motors employs more people," she said.
Parker said that in order to further King's legacy, blacks must also distinguish themselves politically, economically and spiritually.
And she said black people still have a lot to do politically.
"After all the people who gave their lives so we can have the right to vote, we still won't vote," she said.
She cited statistics from several states that indicated there is a lack of voter participation by minorities. The outcome of some elections could have been different with greater participation, she said.
And she warned the audience not to blindly vote for one party over another, but to look at individual platforms.
Near the end of the banquet, Hart-Williams was presented a plaque by Alachua County Commissioner Rodney Long, president and founder of the King Commission.
Hart-Williams is a retired city of Gainesville auditor assistant and is now employed as an equal opportunity specialist for Alachua County.
She also is a founding member of the King Commission and has volunteered countless hours as the organization's executive director.
Hart-Williams said she prefers to stay behind the scenes, and she gets joy out of helping others.
"It's humbling, it's truly, truly humbling," Hart-Williams said. "I don't do what I do for recognition."
Eastside High School senior Kendra Grimes was this year's winner of the Edna Hart Keeper of the Dream Award for academic excellence and community service, which included tutoring students at Lake Forest Elementary.

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