“Don’t Talk About It, Be About It” stood as the recurring theme for the Ninth Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast Friday morning at the Best Western Grand Hotel in Gainesville.
The breakfast served as an opportunity to celebrate King’s life and commemorate his death, said Rodney Long, president and founder of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission of Florida.
The event was also an award ceremony. Eastside High School Senior Alishia Williams was awarded a $2,500 scholarship for her volunteer and academic work, and Bishop Larry Dennison received an award for following principles of non-violent social change.
Before the awards were handed out, the Rev. Karl Anderson made a keynote speech. Anderson was the recipient of the Drum Major for Justice Award last year.
His words mirrored the theme of the breakfast by encouraging action to solve community problems. In his speech, Anderson said several issues currently plague the community, including increased violence among youth, low graduation rates among African-American students and salary inequalities.
“The thrust of my message was to challenge each and every person to be involved – not just talking about it, but being about it,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of issues that plague our community; and if we’re not doing anything about it, then they’ll stay status-quo.”
The audience cheered and clapped throughout the speech.
Some Alachua County Commissioners, including Robert Hutchinson, looked on as Anderson spoke.
“Well, it was a very powerful, motivational speech. It was motivational both from the faith and spiritual side of things, but also political,” Hutchinson said. “He clearly was calling for people to become more active in the community and in politics.”
Hutchinson said local leaders can help give people a reason to vote.
“Well he’s speaking to everybody, but African-Americans only relativity recently got the right to vote,” Hutchinson said. “People lost their lives over it and it’s important for everybody to get their people to turn out to vote.”
After Anderson’s speech, breakfast was served and the awards were presented.
First, Dennison received the 2016 Drum Major for Justice Award, which highlighted his church work along with what he contributed to the community as a whole.
Anderson said Dennison deserved the award.
“He’s a family man, a man of integrity, a purpose-driven pastor who really loves meeting the needs of the community,” Anderson said. “Some people just name their churches just to name them, but he actually lives out the name of his church: Compassionate Outreach Ministries.”
The second award-recipient, high-school student Alishia Williams, received the 2016 Joseph “Joel” Buchman Drum Major for Justice Scholarship.
It came in the form of an over-sized $2,500 check with the caveat that Williams can cash it upon enrolling in college full-time.
Family and friends cheered Williams on, including her mentor Rachel Delaune.
Delaune said she met Williams through the “I Gotcha Back” Mentoring Program at Eastside High School, which serves more than 100 students.
She said Williams was worthy of the award because she works hard at everything she does, whether it be in school, at church or at home taking care of her siblings.
“She knows who she is. She’s independent,” Delaune said. “She’s a very worthy recipient, and I’m very proud of her.”
Long, whose organization planned the event, said the two recipients exemplify the ceremony’s underlying theme of acting upon instinct.
“If there is an issue, or something that you believe that’s injustice, it’s incumbent upon you to address it,” Long said. “Don’t wait for others to address it. You address it. God has given everybody a voice and he’s given people a sense of intelligence.”
Long said leaders are formed when people speak up.
“Wherever there is injustice in our community, and regardless where it might be, you be the one with the voice; and others will come.”