Gainesville group's awards honor King's legacy
Published: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 at 2:53 p.m.
Benjamin Osoba is a “sir, ma'am, please and thank you” kind of kid. He's the kind of kid who looks up to his family, not sports stars, and the kind of kid who spends his free time tutoring and helping others. Osoba, 17, is the kind of high school senior who wins scholarships such as the Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Award, a scholarship given annually by the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida.
2010 King Celebration calendar of events
King Week begins Sunday and continues through Jan. 18. Here is a sampling of some of the events that will take place:
- 11 a.m. today - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute: The Rev. Milford Lewis Griner, founder and chairman of the Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Committee of Gainesville, will officiate at Hall Chapel United Methodist Church, 6025 S.E. County Road 234, Rochelle. The topic of his message will be “Together As One: Are We There Yet?” Call Griner at 377-5022.
- 6 this evening - 25th annual Hall of Fame Banquet: “Living the Dream, Preserving the Legacy,” with keynote speaker State Sen. Anthony C. “Tony” Hill, will be held at Paramount Resort and Conference Center, 2900 S.W. 13th St., Gainesville. The 2010 Hall of Fame Honoree is Dan Harmeling, and the 2010 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award Recipient is Benjamin Osoba of Eastside High School. Tickets are $65. Call Jacquelyn Hart at 376-2442.
- 6:30 p.m. Tuesday - “Remembering Martin:” Dr. Rudolph McKissick will speak at Mount Carmel Baptist Church, 2505 N.E. Eighth Ave., Gainesville. Call Rodney Long at 371-4566.
- 6 p.m. Wednesday - “Restoration of Rights - Expunging & Sealing of Records Educational Workshop”: Workshop will be held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Purpose Center, 1028 N.E. 14th St., Gainesville. Call Meshon Rawls at 273-0800.
- 6 p.m. Thursday - 2010 Black History Cultural Brain Bowl and Spelling Bee: Event will be held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Purpose Center, 1028 N.E. 14th St., Gainesville. Free. Call Cynthia Mingo at 222-9425.
- 6 p.m. Friday - Youth Extravaganza: Event will be held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Purpose Center, 1028 N.E. 14th St., Gainesville. Free. Call Diyonne McGraw at 246-1739.
- 8 a.m.-noon Saturday - Martin Luther King Commission of Florida and 4As Education Summit: Event will be held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Purpose Center, 1028 N.E. 14th St., Gainesville. Free. Call Diyonne McGraw at 246-1739.
- 2-5 p.m. Saturday - Martin Luther King Commission of Florida High School Scholarship Fair: Event will be held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Purpose Center, 1028 N.E. 14th St., Gainesville. Free. Call Diyonne McGraw at 246-1739.
- 11 a.m. Jan. 18 - Hall of Fame Award Memorial Tribute: 2010 Hall of Fame Honoree Dan Harmeling will speak at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Garden in front of City Hall in Gainesville. Call Joel Buchanan at 392-9075.
- Noon Jan. 18 - National Holiday Kick-Off Program: 2010 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Award Recipient Benjamin Osoba will speak at the Bo Diddley Downtown Community Plaza in Gainesville. Call Dorcas Ramseur at 514-1275.
- 1 p.m. Jan. 18. - King Celebration annual Commemorative March: Walk from the Memorial Garden to the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Purpose Center in Gainesville. Call Diyonne McGraw at 246-1739.
- 2 p.m. Jan. 18 - National Holiday Gospel Program: Event features evangelist Gladys Ellis with psalmist Charlotte Ellis Colbert, minister Sebrenah Phillips and hip-hop gospel artist Dequan King at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Purpose Center, 1028 N.E. 14th St., Gainesville. Call Janice Crews at 380-9119.
It's a scholarship that rewards one senior each year with a minimum of $2,500 toward the college or university of his or her choice. The student must demonstrate excellence in school and the community, as well as spiritual excellence, said the commission's president, Rodney Long. The recipient also must provide the commission with a copied letter of acceptance to a college or four-year university and write a presentation for the Hall of Fame Banquet, which is 6 p.m. Sunday at the Paramount Plaza Hotel.
Sunday night will be a time for Osoba to be recognized for his achievements not only as a student at Eastside High School but also as an emerging leader in the black community. He said he knew the scholarship could help him do great things, because he saw first-hand the benefit it had for his cousin, Chris Polk, who was the award recipient in 1999.
“He inspires me, because he's always provided a helping hand in everything I do. He's always there if I have to ask him a question,” Osoba said. “He even helped me with this scholarship. I knew if he did it, I could do it, too.”
Osoba said he's always been a natural in the classroom, and with a 3.85 unweighted and 4.67 weighted GPA in Eastside's International Baccalaureate program, it's hard to dispute his claim. But in no way does he come off as a self-made man. Osoba frequently points to others who've shown him a pathway to success, namely Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Osoba remembers learning about King in elementary school, knowing somehow, albeit vaguely, that he was an immensely important figure. It was only as he matured that he realized the magnitude of King's message and life.
“When I was young, I didn't really know what he stood for,” Osoba said. “But now I realize I want to be like him, which is hard, but I know I can do something great in my own life.”
The theme for the 2010 King Celebration is “Living the Dream, Preserving the Legacy,” a theme that Long says is pointed squarely at the black youth of Gainesville. Osoba was chosen as an example for others to follow, because to Long and Osoba, foundation is key.
“Had it not been for the people who came before me and inspired me to stay in school and go to college, I probably wouldn't have those goals,” Osoba said. “It's important to build a foundation for people so they can build on it.”
Osoba, who plans to attend Florida A&M University and study engineering, hopes he'll be part of that foundation.
One man, Dan Harmeling, is a strong foundational figure in the civil rights movement in Alachua County. Osoba and Harmeling will share the stage Sunday when Harmeling is inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission's Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame recognizes local citizens who have demonstrated social change through nonviolence. Few helped bring about social change in the area as did Harmeling, 68, and his late twin brother, Jim.
As a senior at the University of Florida in 1963, Harmeling joined the NAACP under the Rev. T.A. Wright and became an involved activist for equal rights, going door-to-door to promote voter registration and picketing segregated restaurants and movie theaters. In 1964, he and his brother were arrested in St. Augustine during marches and demonstrations with King himself.
Harmeling also is responsible for forming the first integrated student government party in UF's history, one which, four years after its inception in 1965, produced UF's first black student government president, Samuel Taylor.
Harmeling said Florida in the early '60s had a drastically different racial climate.
“When we were in St. Augustine, they threw chlorine in the pool after blacks bathed in it,” he said. “It was upsetting.”
To Harmeling and his brother, helping end segregation was a moral calling - they wanted to help those who were putting themselves in harm's way for civil rights.
“I considered segregation a wall that separated black people from white people,” he said in an interview with the Gainesville Guardian. “I chose to ignore that wall.”
Highlighting the achievements and influence of Osoba and Harmeling is just one way that Long plans to reach out to the community during this year's King Week celebration.
The commission's focus on empowering the black youth of Alachua County with education and pride, and passing the torch of King's legacy, makes Saturday's events at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Purpose Center especially critical.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and 4As Educational Summit, which runs from 8 a.m. to noon, will bring together community leaders to talk about how to improve the graduation rate for blacks in Alachua County, which Long said is below 50 percent. Talks will include strategies for SAT and ACT preparation, as well as setting a clear path toward higher education.
Later in the day, a scholarship fair will be held at the center for students looking for financial aid for college.
“I don't have to tell you that we are losing African-Americans in the educational system and gaining them in the judicial system,” Long said. “We have to find a way to turn that around.”
A seminar Wednesday night titled “Restoration of Rights - Expunging & Sealing of Records” at the center will help young people who have criminal histories but want to change. During the workshop, young people will learn how to restore their rights, expunge their criminal records and educate themselves.
It's an important step in getting some wayward teens back on the right track, Long said.
“Our most important tool in becoming a better society is education,” he said, “and our events this year are focused on empowering our young adults with it.”
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