King banquet honors activists, student
Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 7:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 7:03 p.m.
The man who has led the way to raise the money to build a memorial honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told a capacity-filled room of people attending the 26th annual King Commission Hall of Fame Banquet that King and President Barack Obama were ready to assume their places in history because of three things they have in common.
Attorney Harry E. Johnson, president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation Inc. since 2002, said King and Obama were "prepped, prepared and present" for their dates with destiny during his 45-minute keynote speech at the banquet held last Sunday at the Paramount Plaza Hotel.
Besides the speech by Johnson, the highlight of the banquet was the induction of Gainesville activists Ruth Scott Brown and her husband, the late Richard "Steve" Brown, and Father John D. Gillespie, an advocate for the community's homeless, poor and hungry for many years.
One of the Brown's two daughters, Gainesville resident Diana McPherson, along with her daughter, Dana McPherson, and granddaughter, Kai Williams, received the awards on behalf of the Browns.
Richard Brown died last year at the age of 88 and Ruth Brown, McPherson said, is 86 and "still a little spunky, though a little frail."
Eastside senior Taonga Leslie also was honored with the Edna M. Hart 2011 Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award for $7,500, which he will receive over the course of four years.
Gainesville attorney Christopher Chestnut served as master of ceremony and Taonga gave the welcome and occasion, during which he urged the audience to also be present when he gives a speech as part of the national holiday kick-off program that begins at noon Monday at the Bo Diddley Downtown Community Plaza.
Before the honorees were recognized, Johnson delivered his speech, which included a lot references urging parents to raise children of today like children were raised in past generations. He said parents have as big of an obligation today to raise their children right as parents of past generations did, mainly because of the way society is today.
"It is 2011, but it feels like it is 1911 or 1968," Johnson said. "It feels like our country has taken a step back."
He said parents can learn from the parents of King and Obama how best to raise children so they will be ready when called by God to do a great work. He said King was prepped by his parents to understand that he was a child of God before he was anything else.
"He was prepared like Taonga Leslie because he knew education is the key," said Johnson, adding later that King was also present when the civil rights movement needed his leadership.
He then talked about how Obama was prepped, prepared and present just as King was.
He concluded his speech with a slide show that revealed how the King Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., will look when it is unveiled later this year.
He also gave pieces of stone from the King Memorial to Rodney Long, founder and president of the King Commission, for his commitment in the fight for nonviolent social justice, and also to McPherson, on behalf of her mother, and Dan Hamerling, a 2010 Hall of Fame inductee, for their participation in the historic March 7, 1965, march across the Edmunds Pettus Bridge from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala., that led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.