MLK banquet stresses work to be done

The Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida's Hall of Fame Banquet was held Sunday night at the Paramount Resort and Conference Center in Gainesville.

JARRETT BAKER/Special to The Sun
Published: Monday, January 21, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 21, 2008 at 12:16 a.m.

Joycelyn Elders may have been kicked out of Washington, D.C., for her statements, only 15 months after President Bill Clinton appointed her U.S. surgeon general in 1993, but Elders is still talking.

"The day we cease to speak is the day we begin to die," Elders said at the conclusion of her speech Sunday night celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.

"I tell people every day, "I'm going to live for a long time.''

Elders, 74, was invited to speak in Gainesville by the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc., for its 23rd Annual Hall of Fame Banquet.

The first black surgeon general (and the second female) brought a message that emphasized the work still needing to be done, saying that if Martin Luther King was watching the event he'd have a smile on his face and a tear in his eye.

"He feels that we've done a lot, but for all the resources in this country, we could have done more," Elders said.

Also at the event, Hazel Kirkland Williams, better known as "Sister Hazel," was inducted into the Hall of Fame for practicing King's principle of non-violent social change.

"If you follow God, the world will get out of the way and let you pass," said Sister Hazel, who has dedicated much of her life to assisting those in need.

Sister Hazel, 82, accepted the award Sunday night in the banquet room at the Paramount Hotel.

She said her vision for the future is "to have a place in this city that 24 hours a day they can open a window and feed the hungry."

She said she admired people like Elders who were themselves and stayed themselves.

And Elders illustrated Sunday night that her message hasn't changed from when she held office, sharing many of her ideas for reformed health care in America.

"We don't have a health care system, we've got a very expensive sick-care system," Elders said.

"Health care should be a human right."

Elders also touched on the issues she sees in America with regard to sexuality, pointing out that black women make up a high proportion of those with AIDS in America.

While in office, it was Elders' comments on sex education in schools that may have tipped the scale and led Clinton to ask for her resignation.

"Vows of abstinence will break far more easily than those latex condoms," Elders said Sunday night.

"We need to teach young men that there's more to being a father than donating sperm."

She said that issues related to violence, crime and poverty also have hit black communities hard.

She said the solutions she had to offer were the same ones King suggested: "Go to school, go to work and go vote."

"I'm not sure we've done any of those," Elders said, pointing to low graduation rates of black males, not only in the nation but also in Gainesville.

"The most important strategy we've got to start with is go to school,' '' she said. Then getting out and voting.

"We sent them to Washington, we can bring them home."

Megan Rolland can be reached at 338-3104 or megan.rolland@

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