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MLK Leadership Breakfast highlights progress, ongoing challenges

Mark Parker



From left: Erica Riggins, public information office for the City of St. Petersburg, Dr. Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Princeton University professor; and Ethel Peeples-Robinson, president of the St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section of the National Council of Negro Women at the 38th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Awards Breakfast. Photo by Mark Parker.

Dr. Eddie S. Glaude Jr. asked a sold-out crowd at the St. Petersburg Coliseum to do more than celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and impact Monday morning.

Glaude, a Princeton University professor, best-selling author and MSNBC contributor, was the 38th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Awards Breakfast’s keynote speaker. He told the more than 850 people who attended to “rip down the barriers that blind us to the humanity of those with whom we live.”

The St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section of the National Council of Negro Women hosted the presentation titled “The Character & Legacy of A Community: Where Do YOU Stand?” It highlighted ongoing challenges in the quest for equality, with Glaude calling Florida “ground zero” in that fight.

He asked attendees if their actions would make King proud nearly 56 years after his death. “This year’s celebration occurs against the backdrop of a nation in crisis exacerbated by the elections season,” Glaude said.

“Americans are divided, and those divisions go well beyond ideological differences – they cut to the marrow of the bone. Too often, we see each other as enemies, with politicians and partisans exploiting it all.”

Mayor Ken Welch said the over 850 attendees embodied St. Petersburg’s diversity.

Before Glaude delivered his impassioned speech, Mayor Ken Welch noted that King championed economic justice. Welch said St. Petersburg’s new Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) program, Office of Equity and the historic Gas Plant District’s redevelopment symbolized the city’s commitment to financial equity.

He also said that his seat on the stage provided a unique view of the crowd standing solemnly for the Black National Anthem. “Dr. King would have been proud,” Welch added. “Because you all reflect the diversity of our city.”

Glaude, however, believes that only celebrating progress made after King’s death leaves the nation susceptible to current threats. He said minorities are quickly becoming the majority, and certain groups hope to remain in power by undermining voting rights.

Glaude said the country is now at a crossroads, and people must choose “who and what we will be.” He explained that King realized interpersonal relationships would remain problematic long after desegregation.

“Integration, Dr. King argued, is the positive acceptance of desegregation and the welcome participation of Negroes into the total range of human activities,” Glaude added. “He went on to write, ‘Laws which make segregation illegal may or may not attack the root of the evil.’ The law cannot deal with the human spirit directly.”

Glaude stressed the significance of legislation that ended segregation. He also said that merely eliminating legal barriers is not sufficient.

He said in many ways, society remains segregated. Glaude noted King said, “Something must touch the hearts and souls of men and women so that they will come together spiritually – because it’s natural and it’s right.”

A sold-out crowd stands for the Black National Anthem.

Glaude urged attendees to address hatred in their households and communities. He said that King, just 10 days before his assassination, expressed the importance of recognizing America was built upon a racist culture.

“It is clear that unless we are honest with ourselves, tell the truth about who we are and what we have done – think about Tropicana Field – we will never solve the problem of racial injustice in this country,” Glaude added.

He said people in power do not want to teach history accurately, create policies that address longstanding inequalities or substantially commit to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. “In short, we don’t want to live up to the ethics of integration …,” Glaude said.

He believes fostering intimate relationships and embracing human differences can create a truly inclusive society. Glaude said personal accountability can help achieve that goal.

“Let’s celebrate him (King) today by asking ourselves the hard question,” Glaude said. “Would he be disappointed in me?

“Stop thinking that racial justice is philanthropic exercise – we don’t need your damn check. What we need is a democracy created by love, and then maybe we can be the greatest country on the planet.”

The event concluded by recognizing local leaders who have made an extraordinary impact on the community by embracing King’s ideals. Nikki Gaskin Capehart, president of the Pinellas County Urban League, received the Leadership Award.

Husband and wife duo Kori and Twanna Monroe earned the Humanitarian Award. In addition, about two dozen local graduating high school seniors were awarded college scholarships.



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