MLK banquet recognizes heroes


Arupa Freeman smiles while a list of her lifetime accomplishments are read off as she is honored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida by being inducted into the MLK Hall of Fame.

Brad McClenny /Special to the Sun
Published: Monday, January 12, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 11:52 p.m.

President-elect Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech as the Democratic nominee for president on the same day 45 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a dream" speech at the National Mall.

"Many believe that this is just a coincidence," Rodney Long said on Sunday night as the keynote speaker for the 24th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Hall of Fame Banquet. "Others believe that it is a divine manifestation."

The Alachua County Commissioner - who has served as a local elected official for almost 12 years - compared the lives of Obama and King Sunday night.

Long posed the question "Did Obama's election fulfill King's dream?" to the large crowd of citizens and elected officials.

"No one can say with absolute certainty where Dr. King's vision for America would have been in 2009," Long said. "Each of us are keepers of the dream. As keepers of the dream we must remember Dr. King's words that

'injustices anywhere are a threat to justice everywhere.' What are you doing to address the injustice that one out of every five African-American males has come into contact with the criminal justice system? Locally, we must work collectively to solve our own problems."

Honored at the banquet Sunday was Arupa Freeman, a local homeless advocate, who since 1994 has worked with the destitute of Gainesville toward ensuring a better life for the city's many citizens.

The injustice Arupa said she sees in our community is that while many homeless are ill, suffer from mental illness or drug abuse or are veterans of the war, they were sleeping outside Sunday in the cold rain simply because they were poor.

"They don't have money and they live in a society where they don't give access to health care, a society that has been dancing around the golden calf for a number of decades," said Freeman as she was inducted into the Hall of Fame for living a life that extends King's dream.

Freeman said if King were alive today his next step would likely be a "poor man's march on Washington."

Last year's recipient of the award was Sister Hazel, another long-time social worker in Gainesville.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc. also presented an Eastside High School senior with a $3,500 scholarship to any university of her choice.

"And I hope it's the right choice," Long said as he presented the check to 18-year-old Thashea Miles. "The president of that university is right over there, as well."

Thashea Miles, 18, said she hopes to use the money to attend the University of Florida but won't receive her acceptance letter until Feb. 13.

"I'm nervous and excited," said Miles, who will graduate with an unweighted 3.84 GPA and took a number of advanced placement courses.

Miles said she hopes to study industrial engineering because she loves the mixture of math and business.

"You are indeed a keeper of the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.," Long said.

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