An estimated crowd of about 140 people filled the meeting room at Civic Center East, which is one of Hazelwood’s recreation centers, for this year’s 12th Annual Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., held on Sun., Jan. 19, at 7 p.m. The event is hosted every year by the Hazelwood Community Enrichment Commission as a way to celebrate the community’s cultural diversity and to honor Dr. King’s legacy.
The 2014 program featured several inspirational speakers and entertainment performed in both music and dance. The keynote speaker was The Honorable Judge David Vincent, III, of the 21st Judicial Circuit in St. Louis County. Other guest speakers included Mr. Charles Gooden, a member of the Dr. MLK, Jr., State Celebration Commission, St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley, and Mayor Matthew Robinson of Hazelwood. Mr. Isaac Garcia, an 11-year-old boy, read his winning entry as one of the five finalists for NCCU’s 14th Annual Dr. King Oratory Contest this year. In addition to being a Hazelwood resident, he is a student at McNair Elementary School in the Hazelwood School District.
Members of the St. Ann Catholic Church Choir performed the following songs: “Order My Steps;” “Thanks Be To God,” and “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.” The Liturgical Dancers of Antioch Baptist Church also performed two numbers to Mariah Carey’s “Hero” and J. Moss’ “Anointing.”
During his speech, Mr. Gooden said, “It’s important that we acknowledge heroes and heroines of this country. We must not only honor them, but share the history with our children.” He reminded audience members that today’s youth are standing on the shoulders of giants who blazed the trail ahead of them with leadership and hard work in order to make Dr. King’s dream come true. “Our society must continue to move forward to create a generation of young people who understand, who accept, and are willing to take the challenge of leadership and champion the cause of social justice for all human beings,” he added.
As the dean of student affairs for Harris-Stowe State University, Mr. Gooden emphasized that Dr. King’s birthday isn’t a national holiday, but a day of community service. He spoke proudly of 75 students who were planning to work on making improvements to the Matthew-Dickey Boys’ and Girls’ Club and the Annie Malone Children’s Home. He also mentioned that 125 students would be at the Old Courthouse the next day to understand and take part in the efforts that allow them to be where they are today.
Garcia’s winning essay focused on Dr. King’s reputation as a civil rights leader who fought for equality and social justice for all Americans without using violence. Dr. King started out by leading the bus boycott against the Montgomery Public Bus Transportation. Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man triggered this action. The boycott ended a year later with a victory for Dr. King’s civil rights movement, and segregation on all Montgomery buses was abolished. In 1963, Dr. King organized the March on Washington where he gave the famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Garcia believes Dr. King’s dream has come true and it has made an impact on his life. He plans to continue celebrating Dr. King’s legacy by treating everyone the same and to not judge them by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Judge Vincent recalled the days when he was growing up in Nashville, Tenn., and what impact Dr. King had on his life and the community around him. In 1970, his mother gave him a plaque showing Dr. King standing with some African-American leaders. He said he knew exactly why she gave him this plaque. “She wanted me to look at it on the wall every day just to remind me what the struggle was all about and what I had to do in life,” he stated.
Although Judge Vincent earned a BS degree in Electrical Engineering and had intentions of going on to graduate school, his vocational goals shifted after a conversation he had with this father. He remembers telling his father that he really wanted to help society and other people. But he couldn’t do this as an engineer. He went on to receive his law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He practiced law until his appointment to the bench, and served as an assistant circuit attorney from 1988 to 1993. On November 14, 1997, he was appointed to the 21st Circuit Court bench. Judge Vincent currently presides over felony and civil trial dockets.
The Reverend F. Delano R. Benson, Jr., pastor of The Antioch Baptist Church, ended the program with a benediction right before the traditional candlelight ceremony began. While the St. Ann Catholic Church Choir sang, members of the Community Enrichment Commission and local dignitaries went around and lighted the candles held by everyone in the room to honor Dr. King’s legacy.